Alexander Volkov before his UFC London loss to Tom Aspinall. | Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC
All the best, most interesting, and unquestionably coolest fights the UFC Needs to book, following their latest event in London, England.
An absolutely electric UFC card in their first London return since 2019. Tom Aspinall completed his transformation into a certified title contender by destroying Alexander Volkov. Arnold Allen turned Dan Hooker into the statement win of his career. And Paddy Pimblett kept his hype train firmly on the rails.
So, is there even one reason out there not to book Aspinall vs. Tuivasa? Or Allan vs. Kattar? And how many reasons can Pimblett find not to fight Ilia Topuria?
To answer those questions – and plenty of others – I’ll be using the classic Silva/Shelby fight booking methodology from the UFC of years past. That means pitting winners against winners, losers against losers, and similarly tenured talent up against one another. Hopefully, by following that model, a few of these bout ideas will actually make it off the page and into the Octagon. Now, let’s get to the fights!
What a perfect performance from Tom Aspinall. He had a huge step-up opportunity in front of him, in front of a hometown crowd; a chance to shine, and to take himself from the status of notable prospect to talented contender. He couldn’t have done a better job of it if he’d scripted the whole thing. Aspinall took the fight to Volkov from the opening seconds and never let his foot off the gas. He out-struck, out-wrestled, and out-grappled Volkov all within the space of 3:45 seconds—and made it clear throughout that his success wasn’t the product of some momentary lapse from Volkov, but a technical out-classing on all fronts. The kind of win that really shows Aspinall as one of the world’s best heavyweights.
After the fight was over, Aspinall followed a perfect performance with a perfect call-out. Tai Tuivasa is fresh off his own contender-affirming victory over Derrick Lewis, where he went punch-for-punch with the hardest hitting man in the heavyweight division and walked away the victor. Despite a win over Andrei Arlovski, it does feel like Aspinall has yet to face a truly current power-striking threat. There’s no question that Tuivasa would represent that. And with Ngannou out of action, and Jon Jones, Cyril Gane, and Stipe Miocic all still in play, it seems unlikely that any title shots are going to be forthcoming. Aspinall vs. Tuivasa is a certified banger. The UFC would be foolish not to make it happen.
If this was Tom Aspinall’s shining moment, then by comparison, fights don’t go much worse than they did for Alexander Volkov. The Russian was two steps behind from the jump, eating a three punch combo in the opening seconds that set a tempo he could never get close to matching. Were it just the one fight, I wouldn’t be all that concerned, but really it feels like something about Volkov has been off in his last three bouts now. I seem to remember that his camp for the Gane fight went especially poorly, but the Tybura fight felt awfully listless—even in a win—and now this. Is it all merely representative of a hard and fast ceiling in the division? Or a sign that Volkov needs to change things up? Perhaps Aspinall is just that good? He certainly seems to be.
Whatever the truth, it seems unlikely that Volkov will be getting a massive step back, even off this decisive loss. He’s still got the kind of record to suggest he’s at the very edges of the top 5, if not quite among them. Which means potential for a Derrick Lewis rematch, or fresh fights with Jairzinho Rozenstruik or Chris Daukaus (should he lose to Curtis Blaydes). Just because of where both men are right now in the division, I’ll say it’s time for the Lewis rematch. One of the all time great comebacks in MMA history; can Lewis do it again? Is Volkov the same guy that schooled him for 2.99 rounds? Volkov vs. Lewis 2 seems like a perfect opportunity to run one back.
The most thrilling, powerful performance of Allen’s career, bar none. He put the screws to Hooker in the opening exchange and got a rare, fully justified standing TKO victory. Allen has always had all the tools to be a top tier fighter in the UFC, but has often seemed to lack real fire to his game. His TKO win here was his first stoppage since 2018 and his first clean KO/TKO since 2014. Fans would never know it from how Allen fought on Saturday, though. A remarkably strong win that clearly announces his arrival as a contender in the featherweight division. And off that big win, Allen had a big call-out ready: Calvin Kattar. Fresh off a hard fought victory over Giga Chikadze, Kattar is unquestionably one of the elite at 145, but he also doesn’t have an immediate path to title contention. Picking off guys like Allen is exactly what he’s gonna have to do if he wants to work his way back to the belt. And for Allen, a win over someone like Kattar will have him in the conversation to fight for UFC gold sometime in the very near future. Allen vs. Kattar is a fantastic booking, no reason not to do it.
Kazula Vargas had a great start to this fight, cracking Pimblett early, getting top control off a blown takedown, and generally looking like he could push Pimblett backwards in the cage. But, he stuck to the grappling way too long, and ended up on the wrong end of a crafty hip throw to back take for his trouble. That led to the RNC and another thrilling win for Pimblett in the Octagon. Ilia Topuria called him out earlier in the night, and the two men have some serious beef outside the cage—but if Topuria was laying down a challenge, Pimblett didn’t seem all that interested in picking it up. It’d be a hell of a fun fight for both men if he was willing to take it, but it’s not hard to see why he wouldn’t. Pimblett’s already the higher profile talent, he’s going to be setting his sights up the division in front of him. Jim Miller is fresh off another dusting if a raw prospect, and he’s exactly the kind of high profile name Pimblett would likely want to add to his resume. Miller vs. Pimblett would be a hell of a lot of fun if Pimblett’s not interested in taking on Topuria.
McCann started this fight all guns blazing, but seemed to hit a wall halfway through. Which then makes it all the more impressive that she was able to find that spinning elbow midway through round 3 that planted Luana Carolina on the mat for a clean KO. McCann is an all-heart fighter, and she’s turned that into regular winning performances. Now on another two-fight win streak, she should be looking to try and claw her way back into the top 15. That could mean taking on the Shevchenko/Casey winner, or Miranda Maverick fresh off her latest victory. But, I like the idea of going winner/loser here and matching McCann up against Mariya Agapova. Agapova is the bigger, and perhaps more powerful fighter, but both women are reckless and constantly tenacious. Seems like a great way to produce another thriller. McCann vs. Agapova would be heck of a lot of fun.
My god what a comeback from Ilia Topuria. That head kick that hit him in the first round absolutely rocked his entire world, and every second that the fight wasn’t on the mat had Herbert landing hard strikes and Topuria looking in serious trouble. That said, the confidence for Topuria to come out in round 2, walk into the pocket and trade shots with Herbert after that terrible first round is absolutely insane. An extremely gutsy performance from Topuria on his way to a massive KO win.
He’s said he’d like to keep fighting both at 145 and 155, but for the moment, I’ll assume he’s staying at lightweight. After the bout he called out Paddy Pimblett. Not sure the UFC will actually give him that fight, but I’d certainly love to see it. Just in case he doesn’t get it, however, fights with Grant Dawson, Damir Ismagulov, Jared Gordon, and Jalin Turner would all be solid options. Personally, I’d go with Ismagulov vs. Topuria. The Russian has looked rock solid in all phases in the UFC. Seems like a perfect test for Topuria to see if he’s on his way to the elite. Topuria vs. Ismagulov is a great fight if the Pimblett bout doesn’t come to fruition.
The fight started pretty cautious, with both men looking to work their jabs, land low kicks and get their feel for distance. Once they did, however, Pavlovich was the man landing the cleaner more powerful shots. That lunging uppercut he dropped Abdurakhimov with was a thing of beauty. His rise through the heavyweight ranks has been unfortunately stalled due to injury, but getting this victory was a great way to immediately jump into the conversation among the heavyweight top 15. That could line him up for bouts with Serghei Spivac, Blagoi Ivanov, or Marcin Tybura. I would have personally voted for Tybura vs. Pavlovich, but Tybura’s booked to take on Jairzinho Rozenstruik. So how about Pavlovich vs. Arlovski? Yeah it’s not a ranked bout, but it’s a lot higher profile than a fight with Serghei Spivac and Arlovski’s coming off three straight wins and a loss to Tom Aspinall—beating him still definitely means something. Pavlovich vs. Arlovski seems like a great resume builder for the Russian.
Another miraculous comeback for Paul Craig. He keeps teaching the same lesson at 205, over and over again: that fighters just shouldn’t try hanging out on the ground against him. And yet, so many still try it. To Nikita Krylov’s credit, he was absolutely dominating Craig for every second up until he fell into that final triangle attempt. But the speed with which he got tapped from there was insane. Craig truly is a sniper on the mats. And after the bout, he had one name in mind. Anthony ‘Lionheart’ Smith has been searching for a way back to title contention, and it is just possible that he could angle for a fight with the likes of Magomed Ankalaev, or even a rematch with Aleksandar Rakic. But, for Craig, Smith represents a very obvious winnable style clash. Both men are known for their fantastic guard grappling and suspect wrestling. Smith is the heavier handed, more consistent striker, but if Craig shoots in on him, I don’t imagine Smith wouldn’t oblige him. Smith vs. Craig is a great matchup between two of light heavyweight’s trickiest submission artists.
An exceptionally hard fought battle for Jack Shore, but he made his persistent, technical approach pay off with a wonderful third round—as Valiev started to get a little more wild down the final stretch and got caught with some huge shots for his trouble. The win keeps Shore’s record a spotless 16-0, and should start getting him fights around the edges of the top 15. Fights with Said Nurmagomedov, Adrian Yanez, Umar Nurmagomedov, and Chris Guiterrez all make sense. Of those, I’ll argue for the Umar Nurmagomedov fight. Nurmagomedov looks like a streaking prospect rocketing toward the top, Jack Shore could be just the kind of hard-nosed, well-composed talent to stop that rise cold. Or he could end up with the first loss of his career. Two great prospects on a collision course; Shore vs. U. Nurmagomedov is the kind of fight we could see rematched 5 years further down the road.
OTHER BOUTS: Dan Hooker vs. Andre Fili, Kazula Vargas vs. Alex da Silva, Gunnar Nelson vs. Santiago Ponzinibbio 2, Takashi Sato vs. Trevin Giles, Luana Carolina vs. Sabina Mazo, Jai Herbert vs. Luigi Vendramini, Makwan Amirkhani vs. Julian Erosa, Mike Grundy vs. Shane Young, Shamil Abdurakhimov vs. Augusto Sakai, Nikita Krylov vs. Dominick Reyes, Timur Valiev vs. Raulian Paiva, Elise Reed vs. Cheyanne Vlismas, Cory McKenna vs. Montserrat Conejo, Muhamamd Mokaev vs. Amir Albazi, Cody Durden vs. Denys Bondar