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Marvin
Vettori
absolutely smothered Kevin
Holland
on Saturday. The question now is how much the win
should move him forward in the middleweight contenders’ queue.

In the main event of
UFC on ABC 2
, “The Italian Dream” entered the cage as a greater
than 3-to-1 favorite over the “Trailblazer” and delivered
accordingly, taking next to no damage after the first round and
racking up a mind-boggling 20 minutes of top control in a 25-minute
bout. It may not have made him many new fans, and the fight is not
exactly bursting with rewatch value, but Vettori made the best of a
no-win situation, neutralizing a lower-ranked yet extremely
dangerous short-notice opponent who had everything to gain. Will
Vettori’s now five-fight win streak and ready-made storyline with
divisional ruler Israel
Adesanya
be enough to earn him a title shot, or does he have
more to prove?

Besides the headliner, the rest of the main card saw a mix of
prospects and ranked contenders earning victories. Several of the
winners delivered impressive finishes, and all need a next
opponent. In the wake of “UFC Vegas 23,” here are some matches that
should be made:

Marvin
Vettori
vs. Darren
Till
:
It is certainly no fault of Vettori’s that Till,
his originally scheduled opponent, withdrew at the 11th hour with a
broken collarbone, and as stated above, he made the best of the
situation, even if the result wasn’t pretty. However, the Holland
win simply doesn’t do much for his stock, especially three weeks
after Derek
Brunson
, who is ranked several spots behind Vettori, did more
or less the same thing. Assuming that Till is good to go in four
months or so, and that the winner of next week’s Robert
Whittaker
vs. Kelvin
Gastelum
headliner is sufficiently impressive to earn a rematch
with Adesanya, the Vettori vs. Till matchup still makes sense. Till
is above Vettori in the UFC’s middleweight rankings despite having
only two fights in the division and despite being 1-3 in his last
four. Frankly, both men could use another elite win before talk of
a title shot. If the UFC wants to rebook this fight for mid-to-late
summer, one of them will get one.

Arnold
Allen
vs. Calvin
Kattar
:
Allen looked superb in taking a unanimous
decision over fellow red-hot prospect Sodiq
Yusuff
in Saturday’s co-main event. The 27-year-old Brit has
gotten to 8-0 about as quietly as one can in the UFC’s murderous
featherweight division, due in large part to very sensible
matchmaking early on. However, with the win over Yusuff, who was
himself 4-0 in the UFC coming into the fight, it’s time for the
“Almighty” one to start fighting contenders. Kattar has become a
bona fide Top 10 fighter, but his attempts to rise higher than that
have stalled out in lopsided main event losses to Max
Holloway
and Zabit
Magomedsharipov
. Kattar’s rise to contention included wins over
some solid fighters including Shane
Burgos
, Ricardo
Lamas
and Jeremy
Stephens
. Allen has shown enough to skip that tier and fight
someone like Kattar next. Make this one a five-rounder, please: UFC
Fight Night “Kattar vs. Allen” sounds like a great time.

Julian
Marquez
vs. Trevin
Giles
:
The good news is that “The Cuban Missile
Crisis” is 2-0 in the Octagon since his return from a two-year
layoff due to a major arm injury. The bad news is that the win
streak comes with a whole lot of “yeah, but.” A win is a win, but
Marquez’s sensational last-minute anaconda choke of Maki Pitolo
in February had been preceded by about 13 minutes of losing to a
borderline UFC-level fighter. His win over Sam Alvey at
UFC on ABC 2 was set up by a protracted beating on the feet and
ended with a vicious, opportunistic no-hooks choke that put Alvey
all the way out. However, Alvey came into the fight on a miserable
five-bout winless streak and was dropping back to middleweight at
age 34 after four years in a heavier weight class. Marquez could
use an emphatic, no-buts win over a viable UFC middleweight. Enter
Giles, who beat Roman
Dolidze
by unanimous decision a couple of weeks ago, and has
some of the same issues hovering over his own three-fight win
streak. Dolidze is a physically impressive prospect but largely
unknown quantity who was dropping to middleweight for the first
time. Bevon
Lewis
, whom Giles smashed last November, had lost three of four
and was promptly cut by the UFC. And before that, at UFC 247 last
February, Giles had a surprisingly tough time in a split-decision
win over a last-minute replacement, severely undersized James
Krause
…who just happens to be Marquez’s coach. The story
practically writes itself. Book it.

Mackenzie
Dern
vs. Michelle
Waterson
:
Dern’s win over Nina Nunes on
Saturday was quietly one of the more impressive performances on the
whole card. What was touted as a high-level striker vs. grappler
matchup instead became a rout, as Dern landed a couple of hard
shots on the feet, dumped Nunes to the canvas with a trip and then
put on an absolute clinic in top position grappling. That extends
Dern’s win streak to four straight since her lone career loss to
Amanda
Ribas
. While it is tempting to vault the 28-year-old grappling
ace straight into a fight with a Top 5 opponent, it would be better
for all involved to tap the brakes. Strawweight is currently
blessed with a bit of congestion at the top, and the winner of the
upcoming Weili Zhang
Rose
Namajunas
title fight will have several good options for a next
challenger, and that’s assuming there isn’t an instant rematch.
Meanwhile, Dern is young, has been very active since coming back
from maternity hiatus, and continues to improve from fight to
fight; her standup and takedowns may never be beautiful, but
they’re undeniably effective. Waterson may never challenge for a
UFC strawweight title, but she has only lost to the best of the
best. Despite her nickname, she has been just as much a wrestling
hottie as anything else in recent bouts, using her athleticism and
smarts to push larger women around, and would be a fantastic test
for Dern. Not to mention, the pre-fight promo reels would be full
of adorable mom footage.

Daniel
Rodriguez
vs. Abubakar
Nurmagomedov
:
Yes, Mike Perry
is a shell of himself, a parody of the guy who arrived in the UFC
four years ago in an explosion of brutal knockouts and
inappropriate behavior. It was still impressive to see the complete
shellacking “D-Rod” laid on him in the UFC Vegas 23 main card
opener. Rodriguez landed 36 head shots in the first round alone,
and scarcely let up in the remaining two frames. By the end,
Perry’s beleaguered nose was Arlovski-esque, and Rodriguez had made
a statement; namely, that while it’s notoriously hard to get a Top
10 fight in the UFC welterweight division, he at least needs a step
up from the Mike Perrys and Dwight Grants of the world.
Nurmagomedov, who won a solid unanimous decision over Jared
Gooden
last week, is in a similar place. Both Rodriguez and
Nurmagomedov have looked spectacular in their wins, but are dogged
by a recent loss. Both feel a bit like prospects because of their
relative newness to the UFC, but are on the far side of 30,
laboring in a division in which it can take several years of work,
with practically no room for error, even to show up on the fringes
of the Top 15. Whoever won would get a nice boost in that
direction.


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