Another UFC Fight Night card has passed us by and with it comes a host of possibilities moving forward for both the victors and the unfortunate fighters who were defeated.
The UFC was once again back at the Apex facility for this card, which came after a strong few weeks for the promotion. Despite having to follow a memorable UFC 262 PPV watched by a full Texas crowd, UFC Vegas 27 provided entertainment throughout.
During the prelims, Damir Ismagulov and David Dvorak extended their winning streaks, the exciting Joshua Culibao registered his first UFC win, Bruno Silva knocked out Victor Rodriguez inside the opening round of their matchup, Court McGee turned back the clock with a dominant performance against Claudio Silva and Ben Rothwell welcomed Chris Barnett to the UFC with a second-round submission.
On the main card, Jack Hermansson returned to the win column against fellow middleweight top-10 Edmen Shahbazyan and former title challenger Felicia Spencer fell to back-to-back defeats after suffering a decision loss against Norma Dumont.
In the co-main event, Carla Esparza put her name in contention for a title shot with a brutal win over the rising Yan Xiaonan and in the main event, Rob Font put on a striking masterclass against former 135-pound champ Cody Garbrandt.
So, what are the next steps we should see after some of those results? Here are three fights that should be booked following the events at UFC Vegas 27.
#3 Edmen Shahbazyan vs. Kevin Holland - UFC middleweight
At UFC Vegas 27, Edmen Shahbazyan fell to a second consecutive defeat. It was the kind of matchup we'd have expected Shahbazyan to move onto should he have beaten Derek Brunson in 2020. To be matched up against someone of Jack Hermansson's quality after his last fight had the potential to be a blessing or a curse. It proved to be the latter.
The fight started well for the part-Armenian middleweight. We've always known his striking is more than impressive and incredibly powerful. Highlight reel KO’s have come naturally to him so far in the UFC. It was clear after the opening round Shahbazyan was having a better time of it on the feet.
But like Brunson did, Hermansson utilized his wrestling to neutralize any threat Shahbazyan had for the final two rounds. It was the same story for the 23 year old and it's clear work needs to be done if he is to hang with the 185-pound elite.
So what's next for Edmen Shahbazyan? What about another former top-10 on a losing streak?
One possible opponent fo is Kevin Holland. 'Trailblazer' has had a similar slide down the rankings and he's in need of a win to resurrect his disappointing 2021 so far.
Holland is an entertainer and he’s a top striker in the middleweight division. Part of his entertaining style is his talking; perhaps against Brunson he did too much of it. His last two fights have been largely the same. Headlining UFC Vegas 22 and 23, Holland was taken down and picked apart by Derek Brunson and Marvin Vettori. His five-fight win streak in 2020 seems a long while ago now...
With both men needing to bounce back from losing skids, this matchup would pair up two entertaining and powerful strikers who are both likely to leave everything in the cage in order to have their arms raised again.
#2 Cody Garbrandt vs. Marlon Moraes - UFC bantamweight
Since going 11-0 and becoming UFC bantamweight champion after beating one of the best 135lbers in history, Cody Garbrandt has now lost four out of his last five fights. With the possibility of a venture down to flyweight, the future of 'No Love' is hard to predict.
After becoming champ, Garbrandt suffered back-to-back losses to TJ Dillashaw before a wild and careless affair against Pedro Munhoz saw him fall to a three-fight losing skid. A 'Knockout of the Year' contender against Raphael Assuncao last year reminded the division what he can do.
But a UFC Vegas 27 main event, which saw him dominated by Rob Font across five rounds, has halted his resurgence once again.
It was strange to see Cody Garbrandt appear fatigued after two rounds given the incredible conditioning and stamina we saw on display after 25 minutes against Dominick Cruz. Perhaps the long-lasting effects of Covid-19 had an impact on his performance on Saturday.
With his recent record at bantamweight, there's the possibility Garbrandt will move to 125-pounds. He was scheduled to do so last year and face champion Deiveson Figuieredo. Given his loss to Font, it stands to reason that particular flyweight welcome is no longer on the table.
The next logical opponent for him if he stays at 135-pounds is Marlon Moraes. The Brazilian has been on a similar decline. After wins against Jimmie Rivera, Aljamain Sterling and Raphael Assuncao brought him three consecutive Performance of the Night bonuses, 'Magic' found himself facing Henry Cejudo for the title.
Having failed to capture bantamweight gold, Moraes rebounded with a controversial and unconvincing decision win over Jose Aldo. Rough KO losses to Cory Sandhagen and Rob Font in 2020 have left Moraes with three defeats in his last four.
With both men experiencing a tough run in the bantamweight division and sliding down the rankings, it makes sense for the pair to face off inside the octagon later this year.
#1 Carla Esparza vs. Rose Namajunas 2 - UFC women's strawweight championship
How stacked and entertaining is the strawweight division right now? It seems the division gets stronger with every card that passes by. UFC Vegas 27 gave us a crucial matchup in the context of the 115-pound top-five. In the co-main event, former champion Carla Esparza faced the rising Yan Xiaonan. 'Cookie Monster' was utterly dominant.
The 12-fight UFC veteran became the inaugural UFC women's strawweight champion in 2014 after defeating Rose Namajunas. Along with a victory over the current champion, 'Cookie Monster' also boasts wins over Cynthia Calvillo and Nina Nunes.
Before her matchup with 'Fury', Esparza had built a four-fight winning streak which suggested the 33 year old was back to her best. Having defeated Virna Jandiroba, Alexa Grasso, Michelle Waterson and Marina Rodriguez since the start of 2019, Esparza was looking to put her name in title contention last weekend. She certainly accomplished that mission.
With a dominant display on the ground and some brutal ground and pound from the crucific position, Esparza well and truly derailed the Xiaonan hype train.
Up until last weekend, i was firmly in favor of a rematch between Rose Namajunas and Zhang Weili being the next championship fight. Esparza's win, and the way in which she decimated one of the most highly touted women in MMA, has thrown a spanner in the works.
I don't see a way Esparza won't be given a title fight after that performance. If Zhang had been beaten by way of a close decision or a controversial stoppage then maybe a rematch would be priority. But Joanna Jedrzejczyk didn't receive a rematch last year after a 'Fight of the year' contender. And with Esparza's recent run and her UFC Vegas 27 win, she should be Namajunas' first defense.
The history there is also intriguing. Esparza submitted 'Thug Rose' to become the division's first champion seven years ago. With both still at the top at 115-pounds, a rematch for the title in a division they've helped build and grow into the UFC's strongest women's weight class is a satisfying concept.
Perhaps a rematch between Zhang Weili and Jedrzejczyk can determine who faces the winner. That sounds like an exciting title picture to me...