The main event of UFC Vegas 54 ended in anticlimactic fashion when a knee injury stopped the action in the third round. Aleksandar Rakic blew out his ACL, losing by TKO to former UFC Light Heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz.
It’s not the way Jan wanted to win, who preferred to use his legendary Polish Power, but he set himself up nicely for either a rematch between current champion Glover Texeira or to challenge the would-be newly minted champion Jiri Prochazka. Blachowicz has made it clear that he’d love to get a rematch against Texeira, but would gladly accept a bout against Prochazka.
If for some reason the UFC matchmakers don’t want to book Jan against the winner of Texeira vs. Prochazka, Blachowicz’s other options would be the winner of Magomed Ankalaev vs. Anthony Smith, which is currently targeted for UFC 277 in July. However, Blachowicz getting a title shot is the most likely outcome.
There’s a ton of movement in the UFC’s light heavyweight division at the moment. Not only is the belt being contested next month at UFC 275, but every fighter ranked above Ryan Spann is booked for a fight, except for Dominick Reyes.
Ryan Spann turned in an extremely impressive performance against Ion Cutelaba at UFC Vegas 54, choking out his opponent with a guillotine less than 3 minutes into the first round. He is not shy about expressing his desire to fight for the belt and probably wants a step up in competition. But with everyone else booked and Dominick Reyes’ return to the Octagon unclear, there’s one man left: Johnny Walker.
Walker defeated Spann back at UFC Fight Night 178 - Covington vs. Woodley via knockout due to elbows and punches. Why not give Ryan a chance to redeem that loss? Both fighters are in similar positions in their MMA careers, being explosive finishers that have a lot of fan appeal, but have passed through some adversity during their UFC tenures.
A redemption win over Walker would prove that Spann has overcome the hurdles that held him back and taken the next steps. Opposite him, a win for Johnny Walker would right a sinking ship. Spann was Walker’s only win in his last 5 fights. However, he could go into the Octagon with a boost in confidence knowing he’s already beaten Spann.
Here’s a lightweight matchup that nobody is talking about, but makes a lot of sense. Coming into UFC Vegas 54, Michael “the Menace” Johnson was on a four-fight skid with many in the MMA community feeling that he needed a win to stay on the UFC roster. Depending on how the fight played out, some even believed that this might have been his retirement fight.
Johnson responded by knocking out Alan Patrick cold in the second round of their lightweight fight, proving that he’s still sharp and dangerous with his hands. Michael Johnson has a bit of mythical status in the UFC fandom since he has losses against fighters he “should have beat” but also some phenomenal wins against top competitors like Dustin Poirier, Edson Barboza, and “El Cucuy” himself, Tony Ferguson.
In fact, Michael Johnson was the last man to beat Ferguson before he went on his legendary 12-fight win streak. It may feel like an eternity ago when counting in MMA years (things move fast in this sport), but there was a time not all that long ago when Tony Ferguson was the “people’s champ” of the lightweight division while Michael Johnson was a top-flight 155er.
Tony has been in high spirits despite his knockout loss at UFC 274, his fourth consecutive loss, and has expressed his desire to keep fighting. Why not match him up with Michael Johnson? Those four losses came against Justin Gaethje, Charles Oliveira, Beneil Dariush, and Michael Chandler, four fighters at the very top of the toughest division in the UFC. Tony may be losing, but he’s losing to the very best in the world.
If anyone deserves a drop in competition and a chance for a bounce-back, it’s El Cucuy. Not only is Michael Johnson an easier fight, but it also gives him a chance to get payback after losing to MJ a decade ago at UFC on Fox: Diaz vs. Miller. For Johnson, it gives him a chance to try and build some momentum off Fergson’s name.
It also has to be said: this is a really fun matchup on paper. Some might disagree with putting Ferguson up against someone with KO power like Johnson in his first fight back from getting slept by a Michael Chandler frontkick, but Tony has a lot more tools than MJ that he can use to neutralize that left hand.
Like Brazil and the United States, Japan played a critical role in the creation and popularization of MMA today. The UFC likely would not be what it is today if not for the defunct PRIDE Fighting Championships. Old school MMA fans are sure to recognize names like Takanori Gomi, Shinya Aoki, Kazushi Sakuraba, and Yushin Okami.
Despite this, there hasn’t been a star UFC fighter from Japan. Most of the Japanese MMA talent goes to promotions like ONE Championship, Shooto, or Rizin Fighting Federation. However, there’s buzz that Tatsuro Taira could become the first Japanese UFC superstar.
The undefeated flyweight prospect was impressive in his UFC debut at UFC Vegas 54, handily defeating Carlos Candelario via unanimous decision. He wasn’t the only undefeated flyweight prospect on the card making his UFC debut; the other was Jake Hadley, who lost to Allan Nascimento during the first fight of the main card.
The UFC matchmakers must have felt that Nascimento was a good test for Hadley, so why not challenge him to take another fighter’s -0? Tatsuro Taira vs. Allan Nascimento is a fun matchup that could provide a ton of technical fireworks and a win would be a big step forward for either man.