UFC 285 is in the rearview mirror and I thought I'd let it sit for a few days before coming to you with some of the best fights to make for each of the key fighters on the card. For each of the key fighters on the card I will propose 2-3 fights including which is the most likely as well as which one I would prefer.
'The future' showed out impressively on Sunday, getting a third round TKO over Song Kenan. After that performance there are many ways Garry would go and it all depends on which direction the UFC want to send him in. Do they send him straight into the rankings? Do they give him another lower ranked contender ? Or do they continue to progress him slowly up the rankings ? Here are some options.
Straight to the rankings - Neil Magny
While unlikely, there is a potential for Ian Garry to be fast-tracked to the rankings. If so, the only name that would make sense would be Neil Magny. Magny is a veteran of the division and has been routinely used as a 'gatekeeper' for the last few years. He still possesses many problems however, a reach that is difficult to deal with and dangerous grappling ability would be the perfect style to test Garry while also offering him a place in the top of the Welterweight division.
Just outside the rankings - Muslim Salikhov or Randy Brown
2 opponents just outside the rankings that would be perfect to truly test Ian's striking would be either Muslim Salikhov or Randy Brown. Salikhov is coming of a TKO win over Andre Fialho who is Garry's teammate. Randy Brown is coming of a submission loss to Aussie prospect, Jack Della Maddalena. Either one makes a massive amount of sense in my opinion as it would be a test in the striking for Garry and secure his next fight to be a ranked opponent. Given that the UFC seem to be only putting him on PPV cards, I'd like so see Garry return on international fight week in July on the prelims.
- My pick - Randy Brown
- More likely - Randy Brown
Cody Garbrandt needed a win and he got one. Even though a decision over Trevin Jones doesn't look extremely impressive, it got Cody the win he needed to hopefully get his confidence back. There are so many options that all depend on what Cody wants and what the UFC thinks he is capable of. Rankings? Up and comer? Well known name? Options are many, let's choose one.
Back to the rankings - Dominick Cruz
This is very unlikely but the only reason I mention it is because Cruz is the only ranked name without an opponent that would make some sort of sense. Cruz was Cody's opponent at UFC 207 when he put on a masterclass to win the belt. That fight was Cody's moment of glory before the decline and if he could win again in a rematch he would be firmly back in the mix at 135.
Well known name - Cub Swanson
If the UFC are looking to give Cody a winnable fight against a well known name then Cub Swanson is the guy. Swanson is coming off a leg kick TKO loss but is not a washed up fighter by any means. He would test Cody's skills as well as his chin before potentially moving him onto the rankings and it would be a fun fight for the fans which could go in the co-main event of an APEX fight night or on the prelims of a PPV.
- My pick - Cub Swanson
- More likely - Cub Swanson
*Dricus Du Plessis *
Dricus Du Plessis takes another step towards the title after a 2nd round TKO over Derek Brunson. He is about to be ranked No.5 and has expressed no interest in fighting down, therefore there aren't many names to fight. A win over anyone ranked above almost guarantees a title shot. Let's go through them.
Robert Whittaker has expressed his interest in fighting the winner of Adesanya vs Pereira in April or a No.1 contender fight. A fight with Du Plessis would certainly be that and would test Du Plessis' widely criticised gas tank. I don't see why this would be 3 rounds if it happened, same with any fight Dricus has next. A fight with 'the reaper' would be an extremely tough test and if he were to win, there would be no denying a title shot.
Another man who is a potential opponent for ‘still knocks’ is Jared Cannonier. Coming off a split decision win over Sean Strickland after his championship loss to Israel Adesanya, Jared isn’t quite at the title door but a win over Dricus would have him close. Ranking wise it definitely makes sense and would surely have to be a 5 round fight night main event.
Vettori vs Dolidze winner
Top contenders, Marvin Vettori and Roman Dolidze square off at UFC 286 in 2 weeks and the winner would be another perfect opponent for Du Plessis. Just like Cannonier, Marvin Vettori is not leading the title shot race. He lost to Adesanya at UFC 263 and also lost his last fight to Robert Whittaker at UFC Paris. Dolidze however is a relatively fresh face at the top of the division. His breakthrough moment came last December with an impressive 2nd round submission over Jack Hermanson. With a win over No.4 ranked Vettori, Dolidze will be looking for a number 1 contender fight and he would have that against Du Plessis.
- My pick - Roman Dolidze
- Most likely - Cannonier
Bo Nickal submitted Jamie Pickett in what was an impressive yet expected performance. As a prospect, his next fight will be determined by how fast the UFC wants to build him. He is more than likely ready for the upper echelon of the middleweight division but if he is pushed too fast it could end up derailing the hype train. Options are explored below…
Full steam ahead - Andre Muniz/ any 11-15 ranked MW
If the UFC wants to go full steam ahead on the Bo Nickal train and send him straight to the rankings then Andre Muniz would be a perfect test of his abilities. Muniz is a dangerous ground fighter with good standup abilities and what better way to test the D1 wrestling of Nickal then an elite BJJ artist like Muniz.
Small step up - Tresean Gore
If the UFC sees 1 small step at a time as the way to go then Tresean Gore is a good opponent. Not unlike Pickett, Gore does not have a stacked record but his most recent win by a nasty guillotine gained him some talk in the MMA world. He is a step up in the rankings from Pickett but not a massive push for Nickal. This fight could headline the prelims of a PPV or be on the main card of a fight night. July seems good to me.
A well known name - Gerald Meerschaert
If the UFC wants to go down the path that they do with many others then we could be seeing a Bo Nickal vs GM3 matchup in the foreseeable future. Meerschaert has been around the sport for as long as fans can remember and has both beaten and made way to many prospects during his 50 MMA fights. ‘GM3’ is just outside the rankings and would definitely test Nickal as he does with most of the people he faces.
- My pick - GM3
- Most likely - GM3
Despite the decision loss to Mateusz Gamrot, Jalin Turner didn't lose much hype. He should fight slightly down the rankings before returning to the ‘Gamrot's’ of the LW division. Here are some options in the 10-15 range.
Damir Ismagulov is coming off a loss to Armen Tsarukyan but is still a name in the lightweight division. Jalin Turner will be fighting lower in the rankings when he gets back in the octagon and Damir Ismagulov is a potential opponent. A similar style to Gamrot could prove beneficial for Jalin as he looks to get back firmly within the top 10.
A fun fight - Drew Dober
If the UFC wants to make this fight, there will be no fans to object. Dober has been calling Turner out since his KO over Bobby Green and he is more than willing to accept the challenge that the reach and striking of Jalin Turner provides. This fight would be nothing short of a war and Jalin has to defend his ranking to belong at the top.
There isn't much to say here, it's a possible fight to re-book. If this fight was made and Dan Hooker gets back to his vintage self the fight would be very competitive but if he is on the decline and scared of the power it would be a bad night for the 'hangman'.
- My pick - Drew Dober
- Most likely - Damir Ismagulov
An impressive win over Jalin Turner has put Gamrot in the mix at lightweight. He will most likely fight up the rankings, here are the options.
Gaethje vs Fiziev loser
Justin Gaethje and Rafael Fiziev have a date booked for London in 2 weeks and the timing lines up perfectly for the looser to defend their ranking against Mateusz Gamrot in what would be a great opener to a PPV in July or August.
Charles Oliveira with a loss against Beneil Dariush.
If Gamrot was willing to wait a bit longer for an even better reward, he could wait for a fight with Charles Oliveira assuming a loss. This fight takes place in May and the loser would more than likely get finished and need some time off. If Gamrot was presented the opportunity he would relish the opportunity to fight a former champion and have his sights set on the title.
Despite the submission loss to Shavkat Rakhmonov, Geoff Neal did not show a bad account of himself. Both men took damage and Neal will probably be taking 5'ish months off. I have 2 names in mind assuming certain circumstances.
A fun striking match - Steven Thompson 2
Given 'wonderboys' recent disinterest to fight any grapplers and him wanting to have fun striking matchups, there aren't many matchups for him at 170 except for Geoff Neal. They are right next to each other in the rankings and fought 3 years ago but there is no reason to say that it would look the same. This 'boxer vs kicker' matchup would be a perfect main event to get any crowd excited.
Defend the ranking- Jack Della Maddalena
JDM recently announced that he already has a contract signed to fight so we will be seeing him in the cage in the next few months. If Jack wins he will be looking to continue up the rankings and Geoff Neal is one of the better strikers at WW to further test Della as he looks to make his way towards the title.
- My pick - JDM
- More likely - JDM
Still undefeated and still yet to let the judges make an impact. Shavkat Rakhmonov showed out in impressive fashion getting the third round submission and he now looks toward the top 5. Much like with Dricus, when you get to the top there are only a few matchups that make sense. Here's a few high level fighters for 'the nomad' to make his next opponent. (These opponents are all assuming Khamzat Chimaev moves up to Middleweight)
Even though he is ranked No.5, Gilbert Burns is probably the toughest matchup for Shavkat stylistically. This fight would be the same test that Khamzat Chimaev had to go through and it would be the perfect test to test Rakhmonov's skills before a title shot.
If you look at the Welterweight top 5 without Khamzat, there are now 2 people who are 1 win away from a title shot and 2 people that are 2-3 wins away. Belal Muhammed has been calling for the title shot non-stop and if the UFC don't oblige, the most likely matchup would be between Shavkat Rakhmonov and Belal Muhammad. This fight would certainly be a 5 round fight to truly test either man before they fight 5 rounds for the title.
If it's not Belal or Gilbert, it would have to be Colby. He is coming of a long layoff and the win over Jorge Masvidal last March doesn't gift him a title shot. Especially if Kamaru Usman beats Leon Edwards in 2 weeks time, Colby and Gilbert who have both lost to Usman would have to prove a bit more before fighting him again. If Colby were to beat Shavkat it would definitely be the statement needed for him to get a trilogy with Usman. Likewise, with a win over Colby, Shavkat would certainly deserve the next title shot.
- My pick - Belal Muhammad
- Most likely - Belal Muhammad
Alexa Grasso made history when she submitted Valentina Shevchenko to become the first female, Mexican born champion in UFC history. Given the long reign of the now dethroned champion, the next fight for Grasso is pretty obvious but if something changes then a backup plan is needed.
Rematch - Valentina Shevchenko
Coming into their fight at UFC 285, Valentina Shevchenko had defended the flyweight title 7 times and was on her way to an eighth before the submission came in the 4th. It is consistently abided by that the long reigning champion gets an immediate rematch and that is most likely what is going to happen.
If something changes - Erin Blanchfield
The rematch is most likely but if Valentina Shevchenko decides she wants some time off and the UFC wants to get moving with a Mexico PPV then Erin Blanchfield is a clear number one contender. Coming off a second round submission over Jessica Andrade, Blanchfield was a clear next contender for Valentina if she won at UFC 285. If circumstances change and the UFC looks for a different opponent then Erin would be next.
My pick - Valentina Shevchenko
Most likely - Valentina Shevchenko
As a long reigning champion, Valentina will almost certainly get a rematch if she wishes but if she chooses to take some time off and wants a different fight there is a clear option.
Rematch - Alexa Grasso
As mentioned before, not much to add.
A non title fight - Manon Fiorot
If Valentina wants to get back in the win column before chasing back her title then a fight with Manon Fiorot would be the way to go. This fight would most likely be a co main event on the UFCs return to Paris with Ciryl Gane as the headliner.
- My pick - Alexa Grasso
- Most likely - Alexa Grasso
There isn't a way to sugar coat it , Ciryl Gane got dominated at UFC 285. Despite the tough loss, Gane didn't take much physical damage and he should be able to turn around and fight again whenever the UFC needs him to. His next fight should be a fight night main event, ideally in Paris. There are a few possible options for Gane depending on how quickly the UFC wants to get him back to the title.
Sergei Pavlovich vs Curtis Blaydes looser
Sergei Pavlovich and Curtis Blaydes have a fight booked for April 22nd and the winner should be getting the next title shot. The loser however, will find themselves 1 or 2 more wins away from the title. Matching up the loser with Ciryl Gane would be a good way to see who really has a place at the very top of the division.
Test the grappling - Tom Aspinall
Ciryl Gane's performance against Jon Jones left much to be desired in the grappling department. He was taken down and submitted in just over 2 minutes and he didn't show much resistance in the process. Moving forward, the UFC will need to know he can hold his own in the grappling and the perfect opponent to test him would be Tom Aspinall.
Fight further down- Serghei Spivak
If the UFC wants to give Spivak a chance at the top of the division while still testing Gane’s grappling then Spivak is the way to go. Coming off an impressive first round submission over Derek Lewis, Spivak looks to make his way towards the top of the division. Post Lewis fight, Spivak called for Jon Jones and while he is unlikely to get that now, a win over Gane would put his name right at the top.
- My pick - Tom Aspinall
- Most likely - Blaydes vs Pavlovich loser.
Finally we get to the main man, Jon Jones came back after 3 years and won the heavyweight title in 2 minutes. His next fight is all but official but if an injury happens and a replacement is needed, there is a clear option.
A fight for legacy - Stipe Miocic
Post fight, Jones called for Stipe Miocic at International fight week in July and Miocic accepted. Jon Jones is unanimously recognized as the LHW goat and after the win over Gane, majority of fans and pundits now see him as the GOAT of the sport. On the other hand, Stipe is widely recognized as the heavyweight GOAT and a fight between the two would be huge for both legacies.
Backup plan - Blaydes vs Pavlovich winner
While the next fight for Jones is basically confirmed, backup plans are always required and luckily for the UFC, a heavyweight main event in April provides that. The winner of Curtis Blaydes vs Sergei Pavlovich will without a doubt deserve a title shot and if Stipe were to get injured, there would be no reason not to give one of these HWs a shot.
- My pick - Stipe Miocic
- Most likely - Stipe Miocic
And there you have it, 12 key fighters on this card with all options for their next fights covered. Who do you think should be the next opponent for each of these fighters? Do you agree with my picks? Let me know in the comments
Top comments (2)
Awesome! Thanks for putting this together - I also found it really educational
How great was this card. Garbrandt and Garry where amazing IMO - I loved the whole thing from beginning to end.
Cool write up 👊