5 Fights We Need to See After UFC on ESPN 41
UFC on ESPN 41, which went down Saturday night in sun-soaked San Diego, was by all accounts a banger.
From the early vantage point, the card looked like it could be a bit of a flop. Outside of its excellent main event, which pitted top-10 bantamweight contenders Marlon "Chito" Vera and Dominick Cruz against each other, it was almost totally devoid of ranked fighters.
But in the end, the card made up for its lack of big names with some dazzling finishes on the feet and the mat.
The most impressive of the night occurred in the main event, when Vera shut the lights on Cruz with a crackling fourth-round head kick, but Russian light heavyweight Azamat Murzakanov and Brazilian bantamweight Priscila Cachoeira scored nice stoppages on the main card, too, thumping Devin Clark and Ariane Lipski, respectively. Wisconsin-based middleweight Gerald Meerschaert also impressed on the main card, cashing as a big underdog to submit prolific knockout artist Bruno Silva in Round 3.
Strawweight veteran Angela Hill did not get a finish in her UFC on ESPN 41 fight but gave fans in her adopted hometown a reason to celebrate when she defeated her opponent, Mexico's Lupita Godinez, by unanimous decision. Yazmin Jauregui also picked up an impressive unanimous decision win on the main card, defeating Brazil's Iasmin Lucindo.
There are always a ton of fun fights to be made after a card like UFC on ESPN 41. Here are five we're hoping to see when the dust has settled.
Marlon Vera vs. Yan-O'Malley Winner
Ecuadorian finisher Marlon "Chito" Vera picked up one of the biggest wins of his career at UFC on ESPN 41, knocking out former bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz with a fourth-round head kick.
In the wake of that win, Vera has options aplenty.
He could fight the winner of an upcoming scrap between Cory Sandhagen and Song Yadong, whom he lost a controversial decision to in 2020. He could take on the winner of a scrap between Jose Aldo, whom he lost to two years ago, and Merab Dvalishvili, which goes down at UFC 278 this weekend. He could even conceivably get a crack at the winner of the next bantamweight title fight, which will pit reigning champ Aljamain Sterling against former champ TJ Dillashaw at UFC 280 in October.
All of these options are good. But of all the choices currently available to Vera, the best seems to be a showdown with the winner of a UFC 280 fight between former bantamweight champion Petr Yan and rising contender Sean O'Malley.
If Yan wins, we get a clash between two of the most versatile and dangerous fighters at 135 pounds—and most likely, a title eliminator. If O'Malley pulls off the upset against Yan, we get a big-ticket rematch between one of the UFC's most popular stars and the only man to beat him in the Octagon. In case you've forgotten, Vera knocked O'Malley out in 2020—and no, it wasn't a fluke.
One way or the other, the fans win.
Dominick Cruz vs. Frankie Edgar
It's kind of surprising it took so long for somebody to kick Dominick Cruz's head into the front row.
The San Diego-based bantamweight, who is often hailed as the greatest fighter in the division's history, has always gotten by with a weird, herky-jerky style of evasive movement that, while unusual and at times interesting to watch, has consistently had some pretty glaring problems.
In short, there's a reason MMA fighters don't bob and weave the same way boxers do. If you dip too low, you risk bringing your chin right into the trajectory of a kick, knee or even an uppercut. Cruz finally learned that the hard way at UFC on ESPN 41, when he lowered his head to evade some punches and moved it right into the flightpath of Marlon Vera's foot.
The intention here is not to suggest the former champ has been overrated or anything of the sort. Far from it. But the style that made him so successful, that confounded so many fighters in previous eras of the sport, seems to be on the verge of being decoded, so he's going to need to adapt if he intends to keep fighting younger, fresher killers like Vera.
We're hoping that doesn't happen. While Cruz is clearly still good enough to beat most guys on the fringes of the Top 10, it seems increasingly unlikely that he'll ever reclaim the title. With that in mind, we'd love to see him start taking on fighters of his vintage, like Frankie Edgar.
Edgar, like Cruz, is a former UFC champ, having ruled the lightweight division from 2010 to 2012. And as luck would have it, he's now competing at bantamweight and keen to fight his last fight against Cruz specifically.
It makes all the sense in the world—especially since neither guy seems to have the firepower to seriously hurt the other.
Yazmin Jauregui vs. Angela Hill
To say Yazmin Jauregui made a splash in her UFC debut would be an understatement.
In the third-to-last bout of the UFC on ESPN 41 main card, the Mexican strawweight defeated Brazilian prospect Iasmin Lucindo by decision in a scrap that might have earned Fight of the Night honors had Nate Landwehr and David Onama not engaged in a ridiculous brawl just minutes later.
Jauregui's impressive debut win warrants a big step up in competition. Our pick is a fight with No. 13-ranked contender Angela Hill, who defeated Mexico's Lupita Godinez earlier in the broadcast—a pretty big upset as far as the oddsmakers were concerned.
At a glance, a fight with a ranked veteran like Hill seems like a major jump for a newbie like Jauregui. Yet Hill has always been down to fight pretty much anybody at pretty much any time, so she is unlikely to object if the UFC offers her this matchup. That's just the kind of fighter she is.
Throw in the fact that these two UFC on ESPN 41 winners match up very nicely on paper—and that they're now on the same fight schedule—and it makes all the sense in the world.
Azamat Murzakanov vs. Jacoby-Rountree Winner
The UFC light heavyweight division is getting pretty good again.
Once considered the promotion's best division, it has more recently suffered from a lack of fresh contenders. But that is finally changing.
The light heavyweight rankings are currently home to a solid collection of new and dangerous threats like Magomed Ankalaev, Aleksandar Rakic and Jamahal Hill, not to mention the new champ, Jiri Prochazka, who has competed just three times in the Octagon.
Then there's Russia's Azamat Murzakanov, who improved to 12-0 overall and 3-0 in the Octagon on the UFC on ESPN 41 main card when he flattened Devin Clark with a third-round body shot.
Ordinarily, Murzakanov would probably still be a win or two away from a fight with a ranked opponent, but the man is undefeated and isn't getting any younger 33 years old. He's already proved he's good and frankly doesn't have time to keep proving it. So let's throw him to the wolves and see what he can do.
Our pick for his next opponent is the winner of an October 29 scrap between No. 14 contender Dustin Jacoby and Khalil Rountree, who is unranked but ridiculously dangerous on the feet. Either matchup looks excellent on paper, and a win over either fighter would send Murzakanov rocketing into the light heavyweight Top 15.
Priscila Cachoeira vs. Julia Avila
Priscila Cachoeira's UFC career began with one of the most lopsided losses in the promotion's history—but that's just what happens when you match a debuting fighter up with a talent like Valentina Shevchenko.
Cachoeira's brutal loss to Bullet, who soon after captured the UFC flyweight title, gave the impression that she wouldn't amount to much in the Octagon. But she is rapidly changing that perception.
After a vicious, first-round stoppage of fan favorite Ariane Lipski at UFC on ESPN 41, Cachoeira is now 4-1 in her last five appearances. She's also moved up to bantamweight, an altogether less stacked division than flyweight at the moment, which definitely shortens her path to title contention.
From here, we'd like to see Cachoeira take on No. 14-ranked bantamweight contender Julia Avila, who is riding an impressive submission win over Julija Stoliarenko and should soon be recovered from a knee injury that forced her out of a fight with Raquel Pennington in December.
It's a good matchup on paper, and the winner would take a big step toward the bantamweight Top 10—and fights with some of the biggest names in women's MMA.