The UFC’s long awaited return is finally in the books. With thoughts looming about how the organization would conduct a Pay-Per-View fight card in a post-pandemic world, the night of combat went off without a problem in sight. With the 11 bouts behind us, I am here to answer – What do I think should be next for the winners and losers of UFC 249? Lets start with the early fights and move to the main event:
MAX’S PREDICTIONS – EVENT: 6/11
MAX’S PREDICTIONS – ALL TIME: 6/11
Ryan Spann – Johnny Walker
In a tough matchup that forced him to weather a late surge and hold on to victory, Ryan Spann (18-5 Career, 4-0 UFC) put his toughness on display on his way to a fourth straight victory inside the octagon. His next matchup should be against ranked competition, and what a better introduction to that level than human highlight reel Johnny Walker (17-5 Career, 4-2 UFC). Walker had a hot start in the UFC, but has lost back-to-back fights, and needs to prove his contender status against another surging talent.
Sam Alvey- Retirement OR Devin Clark
I think Sam Alvey (33-14 Career, 10-9 UFC) is a tough and technical veteran and I always have loved watching him fight. He was gritty last night and managed to almost win in the final minute of the bout. Here is the reality of his situation – he has lost 4 fights in a row, in his mid-30s with a wife and 5 children at home, and the UFC doesn’t keep fighters on the roster too often who drop 4 straight. He has had an honorable career, and the UFC cuts him I do not see the utility in fighting in a smaller organization. If he does stay on with the UFC and wants to keep going, my best option would probably be Devin Clark (11-4 Career, 5-4 UFC). Clark and Alvey both have a mutual loss to Spann now, and while Clark is booked to fight Alonzo Menifield at UFC 250, Alvey could be an exciting option win or lose.
Bryce Mitchell – Arnold Allen
It is always fun to watch a young fighter have a showcase performance where he shifts gears from being known as a hopeful prospect to a legitimate threat to his or her division. Bryce Mitchell (13-0 Career, 4-0 UFC) had that moment last night after his dominant grappling performance. For me, a matchup with red hot UK sensation Arnold Allen (15-1 Career, 7-0 UFC). These two are nearly in the same place in their career: undefeated in the UFC, only 9 months apart in age, and are on the cusp of facing top contenders at featherweight.
Charles Rosa – Winner of Elkins vs. Landwehr (next week)
Charles Rosa (12-4 Career, 3-4 UFC) is in a tricky place right now. He is 3-4 in the octagon, alternating loss to win in every single fight of his career. The four men he has lost to, all killers. The three men he has beaten, relative unknowns to the casual fan. He needs to string wins together to get to the next level, and the winner of Elkins vs. Landwehr next week would be a good fit. Darren Elkins (24-8 Career, 16-7 UFC) has dropped three in a row, and Nate Landwehr (13-3 Career, 0-1 UFC) is getting settled in the big leagues. The winner could make for a gritty battle with a tough veteran in Rosa.
Vicente Luque – Randy Brown
This seems like one of those no brainer matchups. Vicente Luque (18-7-1 Career, 11-3 UFC) was originally scheduled to fight Randy Brown (12-3 Career, 6-3 UFC) in April, but it was cancelled, rescheduled, and Brown could not fight last night so he was subsequently filled in by Niko Price. The matchup is a little stranger on paper now though, as Luque has now beaten Price twice, and Brown was knocked out by Price. However, UFC matchmakers know a fight between these two would be a slugfest, and getting them together whenever possible is certainly the move.
Niko Price – Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone
If we learned anything from last night, we learned that Niko Price (14-4 (1) Career, 6-4-1 UFC) can take a beating and keep marching forward. He is the winner of four performance of the night bonuses, and makes every matchup exciting. What better way to leverage that fighting style than a high profile matchup with a popular fighter in Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone (36-15 (1) Career, 23-12 UFC). These two are both fan favorites, and headlining a card on ESPN in the future could be a great draw for casual fans.
Carla Esparza and Michelle Waterson – Immediate Rematch
There are some things that don’t change even in the time of a pandemic. Even with no fans, strange procedures, the tale as old as time remains – MMA judges find a way to fuck up at least one scorecard per event. To me, the fight wasn’t dominant either way, so 30-27 scores for Carla Esparza (16-6 Career, 7-4 UFC) over Michelle Waterson (17-8 Career, 5-4 UFC) seems unjustifiable. They are both legitimate contenders stuck in limbo between fighting up-and-comers or for championships, so why not just do this one again? Hopefully someone can leave it out of the judges hands next time, they clearly cannot be trusted.
Aleksei Oleinik – Rothwell vs. Saint Preux loser on Wednesday
To be honest, I did not like this decision from the judges either. I thought Werdum won two rounds, and if Oleinik dominated the first round and lost the back two, the fight should have been a draw. An immediate rematch would be justifiable, but I think the best fit for Aleksei Oleinik (59-13-1 Career, 8-4 UFC) would be whoever comes up short this Wednesday between Ben Rothwell (37-12 Career, 7-6 UFC) and Ovince Saint Preux (24-13 Career, 12-8 UFC). The winner of that bout will go deeper in the realm of contenders, but the loser and Oleinik could square up for a grapplers dream matchup.
Fabricio Werdum – Retirement or Ryan Bader (Bellator)
Fabricio Werdum (23-9-1 Career, 11-6 UFC) is a legend in the sport of MMA. However, it is tough to imagine that at 42 years old, coming off a two year layoff, that Werdum is going to make another run at UFC Gold. I thought he won last night, but to make a real run at a title, he would need to smash contenders at the mid-level and last night, that was clearly not the case. Werdum should be very proud of his legacy, but if he still has an itch to fight, I would try to get him over to Bellator where I think he could be their #1 Heavyweight. Currently, Ryan Bader (27-5 Career, 5-0 (1) Bellator) holds the crown, and if Werdum got an immediate title shot I could see him finding a possible way to grind out a victory.
Anthony Pettis – Abdul Razak Alhassan
Former lightweight champ Anthony Pettis (23-10 Career, 10-9 UFC) has had moments of success at welterweight. With a victory last night and an upset KO victory over Stephen Thompson last year, I would like to see him continue at 170 lbs. A matchup for him? The return of Abdul Razak Alhassan (10-1 Career, 4-1 UFC) seems to be a good fit. Alhassan has not fought in around 18 months due to legal battles in his personal life, but the rising star is expected to return, and a matchup with a fellow striker with veteran experience seems like a fan favorite type of fight.
Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone – Niko Price
I won’t spend too much time on this one because I wrote about it earlier, but Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone (36-15 (1) Career, 23-12 UFC) is in a place in his career he has never been: losing four straight fights. I am very confident Cerrone will not retire, especially on a tough loss with no fans present. Waiting until fans can fill arenas again for a war with a tough warrior in Price could be the best way for Cowboy to ride off into the sunset.
Greg Hardy – Overeem vs Harris loser next week
Greg Hardy (6-2 (1) Career, 3-2 (1) UFC) is in a weird place in his career, and the UFC needs to make some decisions about his trajectory. I mentioned in my profile of Hardy yesterday that he needs to beat fighters like De Castro in order to make a real run at a title. He did find a way to win, but I am not sure if anyone was dazzled. Granted, De Castro is way tougher than people give him credit for, but Hardy is stuck between strong performances over prospects, to shifting gears and fighting top contenders. Is the time now? I believe so. Next Saturday’s headline matchup between Alistair Overeem (45-18 (1) Career, 10-7 UFC) and Walt Harris (13-7 (1) Career, 7-6 (1) UFC) could be the catalyst for Hardy’s next big fight. The winner will be established as a top-10 heavyweight, but the losing fighter could serve as Hardy’s gatekeeper to the contender realm.
Calvin Kattar – Yair Rodriguez
Calvin Kattar (21-4 Career, 5-2 UFC) has quietly risen to one of the most dangerous featherweights in the world. His only two losses in the octagon? Decision losses to top contenders Renato Moicano and Zabit Magomedsharipov. Everyone else, he has knocked out and knocked out in BRUTAL fashion. A top-5 featherweight is the move, and who better than dazzling talent Yair Rodriguez (13-2 (1) Career, 8-1 (1) UFC). Rodriguez has not fought since October, and two punishing strikers like Kattar and rodriguez has fight of the night written all over it.
Jeremy Stephens – Retirement or Kevin Lee at Lightweight
This weekend wasn’t a great look for Lil’ Heathen. Jeremy Stephens (28-18 (1) Career, 15-17 (1) UFC) missed weight for the third time in his career, and by 4.5 lbs. at that. He was brutally knocked out en-route to his 4th loss in 5 fights (the being a no contest). I love Stephens, and have been a massive fan since his vicious uppercut KO on Rony Jason in 2013, and these past few have been hard to watch. He is still clearly world class, but fighting nothing but contenders fight in and fight out leads to some brutal ways to lose. I would prefer him take his martial arts experience and become an assistant at his home gym of Alliance MMA, but knowing Stephens I am sure we will see him again. If he fights again, he certainly needs to move back to lightweight, and a fight with Kevin Lee (18-6 Career, 11-6 UFC) lines up well. Lee has lost three of five, but is still recognized as a top talent in the organization with name recognition to be an ESPN headliner for an event.
Francis Ngannou – Stipe Miocic for the UFC Heavyweight Title
Surprise everyone! Francis Ngannou (15-3 Career, 10-2 UFC) almost fucking killed a guy again. Ever since his back to back losses following his first run to a title shot, Ngannou has smoked his last four opponents all under 1 min 20 seconds. His combined fight time in his last four? 2 minutes 42 seconds. He is unreal.
With UFC Champion Stipe Miocic (19-3 Career, 13-3 UFC), there really is only three options: 1. A rematch with Ngannou 2. A third fight with Daniel Cormier 3. A fight with Curtis Blaydes. Option three is a tough sell to me, because even though Blaydes (13-2 Career, 8-2 UFC) is a freight train, his two career losses are both KO losses to Ngannou. So that leaves Ngannou, or Cormier (22-2 (1) Career, 11-2 (1) UFC). Cormier has a win over Miocic, and a third fight would be a big sell for a Pay-Per-View cash grab, but its hard to justify Cormier coming off a loss to Miocic more worthy of a title shot than Ngannou who has won four in a row.
With Miocic saying publicly he does not want to fight during quarantine, that opens up the possibility of Ngannou and Cormier fighting for an interim title, but it is hard to see Cormier taking a fight that dangerous with limited upside this late in his career.
Jairzinho Rozenstruik – Overeem vs Harris winner next week
While the loser of Overeem vs Harris is a good gatekeeper for Greg Hardy, the winner seems like a brilliant fit for Jairzinho Rozenstruik (10-1 Career, 4-1 UFC). He was undefeated before last night, meeting the fate that many men meet with Ngannou. However, he is still certainly a top contender and deserves to be treated as such. It would be particularly interesting if Alistair Overeem wins next week, because the two have fought before – Overeem was winning the contest, but Rozenstruik came from behind to win by knockout with 4 seconds remaining in the fight. A rematch would be more than justified.
Henry Cejudo – Petr Yan (If Cejudo returns from retirement)
Henry Cejudo (16-2 Career, 10-2 UFC) added another notch to his hall of fame legacy after stopping Dominick Cruz with 2 seconds left in the 2nd round. I thought that it was an early stoppage personally, but nevertheless the champ kept his crown. After his victory, the MMA world was met with shocking news that Cejudo was hanging up his gloves for good, vacating his title.
There has been skepticism floating around that this is a ploy for Cejudo to leverage some weight in contract negotiations, but after an Olympic gold medal run in 2008 and 18 pro MMA fights I would not be stunned if he’s had enough of the grind of combat sports. If he is done, congratulations to Cejudo for a wonderful career. If he comes back, Petr Yan (14-1 Career, 6-0 UFC) is the guy.
Yan has to be the UFC’s top contender, and Cejudo returning would mean they’d have to square up. Yan hasn’t just won all six of his fights in the octagon, he has dominated, and there is no doubt the UFC wants him involved at the championship level.
Dominick Cruz – Retirement or Petr Yan for the vacant UFC Bantamweight Title
If I had to take a guess that someone was going to retire last night following their performance, I would have certainly put money on Dominick Cruz (22-3 Career, 13-3 UFC/WEC) over Cejudo. Cruz has a great career in fight commentary and has cemented a legacy that is hall of fame worthy. I personally believe he was stopped too early last night, and would love to see him fight again, although I can see it being the end of the road for him. If he does return AND Cejudo returns, I say Cruz waits for a Cejudo vs Yan winner to try and get another title shot. If Cejudo does not return but Cruz does, I would suggest Cruz and Yan fight for the vacant belt. A legend vs a young hungry contender is mutually beneficial for both parties involved.
Justin Gaethje – UFC Lightweight Title Unification Bout with Khabib Nurmagomedov
After a picture perfect performance, Justin Gaethje (22-2 Career, 5-2 UFC) has become the UFC’s Interim Champion, essentially assuring him an appointment with champion Khabib Nurmagomedov (28-0 Career, 12-0 UFC) in the future. This is what Dana White has said publicly, the only potential fight that could derail this – is a cash grab for Nurmagomedov in the form of a rematch with Pay-Per-View cash king Conor McGregor (22-4 MMA, 10-2 UFC).
I think Conor is going to wait it out though. Especially in a time with no fans allowed in arenas, the UFC isn’t going to waste a McGregor fight with no opportunity to make money at the gate. With McGregor out of the picture, Nurmagomedov vs. Gaethje is a no brainer.
Tony Ferguson – Nate Diaz
Despite suffering a brutal loss last night, Tony Ferguson (25-4 Career, 15-2 UFC) should have nothing but praise shot his way. Ferguson could have not taken this fight, waited for Nurmagomedov to become available and not risked his big title fight opportunity. Instead, he took a chance against a killer in Gaethje during a strange time where training and preparation is difficult, and he lost. Ferguson should be rewarded for that risk, and that reward should be in the form of a Pay-Per-View headliner against Nate Diaz (20-12 MMA, 15-10 UFC).
Everyone wins with this option. Ferguson gets a big name that will be a massive money maker, Diaz gets a top contender that puts him in title contention with a win, and the fans win because that fight is guaranteed bloodshed with their aggressive fight styles, ability to take damage, and insane conditioning.
What a great return to action for MMA, and thankfully for fans, we have a lot more to come in the following week.