5 Fights We Need to See After UFC on ESPN 35

Tom Taylor@@TomTayMMAContributor IIMay 2, 2022

5 Fights We Need to See After UFC on ESPN 35

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    UFC on ESPN 35 went down inside the promotion's Apex facility in Las Vegas on Saturday night. The card was almost immediately overshadowed by Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano's incredible lightweight boxing match across the country in New York City, but it still opened the door to some interesting possibilities.

    In the main event, Ecuador's Marlon "Chito" Vera evolved from middling veteran to bona fide title contender with a brutal and bloody decision victory over the always dangerous Rob Font. And in the co-main event, former heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski reaffirmed his status as a true ageless wonder, defeating Jake Collier by decision to move onto a four-fight winning streak at 43 years old.

    Elsewhere on the card, we witnessed impressive performances from the like of featherweight veteran Darren Elkins—the guy with the "Damage" tattoo—and rising heavyweight contender Alexandr Romanov.

    It may not have been a viewership blockbuster, but it was a fun night of fights all the same. Keep scrolling for the matchups we're hoping to see when the dust has settled.

Marlon Vera vs. TJ Dillashaw

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    These days the MMA fandom can be divided into two halves: those who believe the next crack at UFC bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling should go to TJ Dillashaw, and those who feel the opportunity should be given to Jose Aldo.

    This writer believes that the all-time great Aldo, who is riding a trio of impressive wins over top-10 contenders, deserves a title shot far more than TJ Dillashaw, who has won one fight since 2018 thanks to a two-year doping suspension.

    If logic and justice prevail, that means Dillashaw will be available to fight somebody else—like Marlon "Chito" Vera.

    Vera, as we've already covered, picked up the biggest win of his career in the UFC on ESPN 35 main event, defeating No. 5 bantamweight contender Rob Font with a brilliant and bloody unanimous decision.

    The win should push the Ecuadorian to the precipice of the top five and earn him a fight with one of the division's biggest names—like Dillashaw.

    It makes sense from a rankings standpoint, and it would be an excellent fight. The only question is if Dillashaw is willing to accept anything that isn't a title fight.

Rob Font vs. Cory Sandhagen

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    Rob Font put forth an excellent effort against Marlon Vera and actually out-landed his rival by a substantial 271-159 margin, per UFCStats.com.

    Unfortunately, he had no answer for Vera's vicious power, succumbing to multiple knockdowns over the course of their five-round fight, which ultimately led to a unanimous-decision loss.

    Font has options as he looks to get back on track. He could take the safe route and fight somebody on the fringes of the bantamweight top 10 like Song Yadong or Pedro Munhoz, who are tied at No. 9. But we're hoping he'll angle for a high-risk, high-reward showdown with No. 4 contender Cory Sandhagen.

    Sandhagen is actually in a similar situation to Font. He's been on the cusp of title contention forever, but with back-to-back decision losses to Petr Yan and TJ Dillashaw, he is in pretty desperate need of a win.

    Pit him against Font to see who really belongs in the top five and rest assured that a bonus check—maybe two of them—will be required.

Andrei Arlovski vs. Blagoy Ivanov

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    Andrei Arlovski has been counted out more times than just about any fighter in UFC history. Yet at 43 years old, the former heavyweight champion continues to fight—and win.

    After defeating Jake Collier with a razor-close split decision, the Belarusian is now on a four-fight winning streak. To suggest he'd be in this position in 2022 would have been downright laughable at multiple points in his career, but here we are.

    From here, we'd like to see Arlovski matched up with Blagoy Ivanov. The Bulgarian, the former World Series of Fighting heavyweight champion, is one of the few fighters on the UFC roster Arlovski has yet to fight. Better yet, he's ranked No. 15 in the heavyweight division, which means this fight could potentially catapult Arlovski back into the rankings.

    It's a long shot, but if anybody can earn a spot in the rankings in their 40s, it's Arlovski.

Darren Elkins vs. Alex Caceres

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    Darren Elkins got back to winning ways, defeating Tristan Connelly by unanimous decision to rebound from a TKO loss to Cub Swanson.

    The win marked the final fight on Elkins' current UFC contract, so it's possible he's fought his last fight in the Octagon, but it seems more likely that he'll be re-signed by the promotion. After a long list of memorable brawls, slick finishes and wild comebacks, he is something of a cult hero among MMA fans, and as he proved against Connelly, he's still a very good fighter.

    If Elkins is re-signed by the UFC, we're hoping to see him fight fellow veteran Alex Caceres. Full disclosure: we got the idea for this matchup from MMA journalist Alex Behunin.

    Caceres, who recently had a five-fight streak derailed by a decision loss to Sodiq Yusuff, seems like the perfect dance partner for Elkins at this stage. Better yet, they have the styles to give us a very entertaining fight.

Alexandr Romanov vs. Sergei Pavlovich

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    Alexandr Romanov might be the most promising new contender in the heavyweight division right now—though surging Englishman Tom Aspinall may beg to differ.

    One way or the other, the Moldovan has a very bright future. He reminded the world of his potential on the UFC on ESPN 35 undercard, effortlessly defeating veteran Chase Sherman by submission.

    With the win, he is now 16-0 overall and 5-0 in the UFC. He's ready for a big step up in competition.

    Post-fight, he expressed interest in a fight with No. 13-ranked heavyweight contender Augusto Sakai. That's a decent idea, but we'd like to see him aim a little higher. Our hope is that Romanov will be matched up with No. 11 contender Sergei Pavlovich next.

    Russia's Pavlovich, the former Fight Nights Global heavyweight champion, is also a promising prospect, though he has experienced more adversity than his Moldovan rival, having been defeated by Alistair Overeem in his UFC debut.

    He rebounded from that loss with three straight stoppage wins and looks like a perfect opponent for Romanov at this stage. Throw it on a pay-per-view main card, and let's see which big man really belongs at the top of the heap.