5 Fights We Need to See After UFC on ESPN 36
UFC on ESPN 36 went down on Saturday night in Las Vegas, and the card paved the way for some excellent matchmaking possibilities—potentially even a title fight.
Headlining honors for the event went to former light heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz and rising contender Aleksandar Rakic.
It was a competitive fight, but Blachowicz ultimately came out on top after injuring his foe's leg with a kick in Round 3. It was a sorely needed win for the Polish striker, who surrendered the light heavyweight title to Glover Teixeira in his last fight.
The penultimate bout of the UFC on ESPN 36 event also occurred in the light heavyweight division, where Ryan Spann picked up a first-round submission win over Moldovan bruiser Ion Cutelaba. The win should give the No. 13-ranked American a nice push up the light heavyweight ladder, but a title shot is still some distance away.
Elsewhere on the main card, No. 1 flyweight contender Katlyn Chookagian picked up the first victory of a new contract with a decision win over former strawweight Amanda Ribas, who made the fight competitive throughout.
The undercard, finally, featured impressive performances from veterans and prospects alike, including Ultimate Fighter product Michael Johnson and debuting Japanese flyweight Tatsuro Taira.
Keep scrolling for the fights we hope to see for the stars of the card when the dust has settled.
Jan Blachowicz vs. Teixeira-Prochazka Winner
Jan Blachowicz's third-round stoppage win over Aleksandar Rakic should be enough to earn him a fight with the winner of the light heavyweight title fight between champion Glover Teixeira and challenger Jiri Prochazka scheduled for UFC 275 on June 11 in Singapore.
A Teixeira-Blachowicz matchup could be a bit of a tough sell, as the Brazilian submitted the Pole to capture the title last October. However, the champion made it pretty clear ahead of UFC on ESPN 36 that he was willing to give Blachowicz a rematch if he got by Rakic, and it's not like there are any better options available at the moment.
"Let's go [Jan Blachowicz]," he wrote on Twitter several hours before the fight. "Win tonight...and I'll win [June] 11, then we run it back."
It's not the perfect fight, but unless Jon Jones makes a surprise return to the light heavyweight division—which simply isn't going to happen—Blachowicz deserves the next title shot more than anybody else at the moment, whether it's Teixeira or Prochazka sitting on the throne.
Ryan Spann vs. Ovince Saint Preux
Ryan Spann picked up one of the better wins of his career on the UFC on ESPN 36 main card, submitting Ion Cutelaba with a first-round guillotine choke.
Spann was already ranked No. 13 at light heavyweight ahead of the fight. The win over the unranked Cutelaba probably won't be enough to push him up the Top 15, but it should earn him another big opportunity.
From here, we're hoping to see him matched up with former interim title challenger Ovince Saint Preux. He is currently unranked but has been on the cusp of title contention at several points in his career and—after a decision win over Brazilian legend Mauricio "Shogun" Rua at UFC 274 earlier this month—is once again in a decent position in the division.
He and Spann were actually supposed to fight in February 2020, but it never ended up happening. A little over two years later, it seems like a good time to try again.
Katlyn Chookagian vs. Alexa Grasso
Katlyn Chookagian fought out her UFC contract with a win over Jennifer Maia earlier this year, and for a brief period, there was some question as to whether the UFC would attempt to re-sign her. While she has long been ranked No. 1 in the promotion's women's flyweight rankings, she is often panned for the less-than-exciting nature of her victories.
The UFC ultimately decided to keep Chookagian around and matched her up with Brazil's Amanda Ribas on the UFC on ESPN 36 main card. The American won by decision, and the bout actually won Fight of the Night honors for the card, which will help her reputation among fans.
Chookagian is now on a four-win streak, having also beaten Viviane Araujo and Cynthia Calvillo. If she hadn't lost so decisively to flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko the first time they fought, Chookagian might be in line for a title shot. However, she probably has some more work to do before she's afforded that opportunity.
A fight with No. 5-ranked contender Alexa Grasso, who is closing in on a title shot herself after wins against Ji Yeon Kim, Maycee Barber and Joanne Wood, seems like just the ticket for Chookagian.
Throw it on a Fight Night main card and give the winner a crack at the champion, assuming Shevchenko gets by Taila Santos at UFC 275 next month in Singapore.
Michael Johnson vs. Cerrone-Lauzon Winner
The Ultimate Fighter season 12 finalist Michael Johnson picked up one of the most important wins of his career on Saturday's undercard, knocking out Brazil's Alan Patrick in the second round of a lightweight fight.
The 35-year-old entered the Octagon with four straight losses and most likely would have been cut by the promotion had he lost again.
At this point, it's pretty evident Johnson's best days are behind him, but he is one of the most underrated lightweights of this era, with wins over the likes of Tony Ferguson, Edson Barboza and Dustin Poirier. He's earned the right to hang around for some fun fights, even if he's no longer a threat to the lightweight title.
From here, we'd like to see Johnson matched up with the winner of a June 18 fight between fan-favorite lightweight veterans Joe Lauzon and Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone. Johnson defeated Lauzon by decision back in 2013 but has never met Cerrone in the Octagon.
At this stage, either matchup makes sense. All three have well over a decade of experience in the Octagon, and even in the twilights of their respective careers, they all possess the skills and power to finish their opponents—as Johnson reminded us all on Saturday.
Tatsuro Taira vs. Allan Nascimento
In the second bout of the UFC on ESPN 36, Japanese flyweight prospect Tatsuro Taira made a successful UFC debut with a decision win over Carlos Candelario. The victory pushed Taira, the former Shooto flyweight champion, to a solid 11-0 overall and cemented him as a fighter we should all be paying attention to.
From here, we'd like to see Taira matched up with Brazil's Allan Nascimento. Nascimento, a pupil of top UFC lightweight Charles Oliveira, was also back in action at UFC on ESPN 36, spoiling the Octagon debut of England's Jake Hadley, who was unbeaten heading into the matchup.
Can the Brazilian ruin Taira's undefeated record the same way he did Hadley's? There's only one way to find out. Match the two flyweights up on a pay-per-view undercard or Fight Night main card and see who's ready to take another big step in the direction of the division's destructive champion, Deiveson Figueiredo.