With Max Holloway’s unanimous decision win over British contender Arnold Allen on April 15, we lost another potential opponent for featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski. With Holloway having dropped all three of his previous contests against the champ, and the last being a complete domination, he is unable to fight for a title any time soon. With Holloway as such a clear number two in the division, the question becomes just how many contenders and potential fresh matchups for the champ do we let him knock off? Allen entered the bout on a 12 fight win streak that had spanned 8 years and just like that he’s no longer in the title conversation. Volkanovski’s next scheduled opponent, the always-dangerous Yair Rodriguez, actually lost his fight against Holloway before being gifted an interim title shot while Volk moved up in weight to fight for a second belt. The argument could easily be made that Yair does not deserve a title shot over Holloway and is mostly being pushed due to the UFC’s long standing goal of developing the Mexican fanbase (and therefore talent pool). If fresh matchups remain a top priority for the UFC matchmakers, why have Holloway continue to knock fighters out of contention?
However, Holloway is at least asking for a fourth shot at the champ, as unrealistic as that may be. What is happening in the UFC’s bantamweight division is far worse. Merab Dvalishvili, number one ranked contender, has repeatedly stated that he will never fight for the title against his friend and training partner, bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling. While it isn’t abnormal for training partners to avoid fighting one another, it is usually customary for one of them to move up or down a weight class in order to avoid the Merab-Aljo situation, much like former champion Daniel Cormier did for his friend Cain Velasquez. Merab, on the other hand, has repeatedly called out contenders that represent difficult stylistic matchups for Sterling. Notably, he beat out former bantamweight champion Petr Yan who, while 0-2 against the champ on paper, was considered by most to be 1-1 after their first contest ended in a strange disqualification after Yan was dismantling Sterling, and their second fight was razor close split decision in which Yan appeared to dominate the later rounds. Afterwards, Merab verbally agreed to fight contender Cory Sandhagen, surging recently after a dominant showing against Marlon “Chito” Vera.
But it isn’t just Merab’s bodyguarding behavior that really irritates fans and Dana White alike. It is his wet blanket style, one which utilizes his inhuman cardio to essentially fail more often than his opponent can even try (he attempted a UFC record 49 takedowns against Yan while managing under 7 minutes of control time). What is even worse than this however, is that his style and pace would likely make him a consensus favorite over the champ, a man he refuses to fight.
While we can’t exactly force Merab to fight Sterling, I would suggest a similar solution to both the Holloway and Merab situations. Make them fight in a different weight class. For Holloway’s part, he has fought up at 155lbs before in a match against Dustin Poirier, and I would suggest a potential superstar matchup for him against Conor McGregor if he wins his bout later this year against the always exciting but very beatable Michael Chandler. It would two of the absolute superstars of the sport and would let Holloway get revenge for his loss against McGregor a decade ago when both were relative unknowns. For what it’s worth, Holloway has already expressed interest in the match.
Merab is a more difficult man to make a matchup for. If Aljo loses his belt to former two division champion Henry Cejudo on May 6, then he may be willing to fight for the belt so long as it doesn’t step on Sterling’s toes. If Sterling wins and doesn’t decide to move up to 145lbs as he’s previously hinted, then I think Merab should be forced to move up. Matchmaking in featherweight is more up in the air but the potential loser of Bryce Mitchell vs Mosvar Evolev sounds interesting.
Feel free to leave a comment below, have I been too harsh on the UFC’s greatest bromance or not harsh enough? Does a Holloway McGregor matchup interest you or would you rather see him fight someone currently ranked at lightweight like a Rafael Fiziev, etc.?
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