What's Next for UFC 126 Winners?

Forrest Griffin (right) was victorious over Rich Franklin on Saturday at UFC 126. Now who should he face next? Photo by Tracy Lee/Yahoo! Sports

"UFC 126: Silva vs. Belfort" is in the books and what a night of fights it was. One of the deeper cards in UFC history gave us a few memorable moments, none bigger than Anderson Silva's front kick knockout of Vitor Belfort in the main event.

With the event come and gone, it's time to take a look at what could be in store for some of the card's winners going forward. Of course, it already has been announced that Jon Jones will face Mauricio Rua for the UFC light-heavyweight title next month at UFC 128 in the wake of a knee injury to top contender Rashad Evans. Everything else, though, is wide open. UFC matchmaker Joe Silva has a tough job. If I were in his shoes, here's the fights I'd make going forward:

Anderson Silva: After picking up his 13th straight win to start his UFC career and making his eighth title defense, there's not a whole heck of a lot left for Silva in the middleweight division. One man, though, has quietly and patiently waited his turn while being passed over for others. That man is Yushin Okami. The clamoring already has begun for a potential superfight between Silva and welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre (should St. Pierre get by Jake Shields at UFC 129 in April). I might be the only one, but I have no interest in seeing that fight until Silva fights Okami. Seriously now, the man has done his time and earned his chance. He's 10-2 in the UFC. That deserves a title shot against Silva. If Silva beats Okami, sure, let's go ahead and do Silva against St. Pierre. For Okami to be 10-2, be promised a title shot and not get it? That would be a shame and an absolute travesty. He's won 6-of-7 fights with the only loss being to a man who did get a title shot (Chael Sonnen). For him to have to wait any longer would be ridiculousness of the highest degree. He's bided his time. He deserves the chance to meet Silva for the title.

Forrest Griffin: This is interesting because the logical choice seemed to be for the winner of the Griffin/Rich Franklin fight to face the winner of the Jon Jones/Ryan Bader fight. Now, with Jones moving on up, it leaves Griffin in an interesting spot. Having been around so long, he's already faced many of the fighters at the top of the division. With a fight with Jones no longer a possibility, it makes sense to match Griffin with Antonio Rogerio Nogueira should he beat Tito Ortiz next month at "UFC Fight Night: Ortiz vs. Nogueira." That fight originally was supposed to happen at UFC 114 last year but Griffin had to pull out due to injury. The UFC also could pair Griffin with Lyoto Machida provided he beats Randy Couture at UFC 129. That fight also was supposed to happen, but Griffin had to pull out of the bout, scheduled for UFC 70, with a staph infection. Either one of those fights would be appropriate at this point.

Jake Ellenberger: After earning a split decision win over Carlos Eduardo Rocha, Ellenberger is in a weird spot in the welterweight division. He's certainly a talented fighter but is in the position now where he needs to take a step to the next level. I don't think we saw all of Ellenberger's talents in this fight. I believe he's better than what he showed Saturday and here's two options for him: Ellenberger could meet the winner of the UFC on Versus 3 fight between Diego Sanchez and Martin Kampmann or he could face the winner of the "UFC Fight Night: Ortiz vs. Nogueira" bout between Dan Hardy and Anthony Johnson. Sometimes when I do these columns, I bump the winners up a level when the UFC isn't ready to do so yet. If that's the case, those fights might be too high (although how great would Ellenberger/Johnson be?). The problem with welterweight right now is everyone is fighting for second place so it's tough to slot guys in. There are no real contender fights right now except UFC 127's Jon Fitch vs. B.J. Penn. The division is going through the motions.

Miguel Torres: I think a lot of people were disappointed Torres didn't handle Antonio Banuelos a little more. This wasn't the type of performance Torres needed to put on in his first UFC fight. We've seen him engage in legitimate "Fight of the Year" finalists in two of the last three years, so it's a little surprising he didn't let it hang out a little more here, although that could be due to him evolving as a fighter. I have some reservations about what to do with Torres because he didn't light the world on fire here. It seems to me the Urijah Faber/Eddie Wineland winner would get a title shot, so they're out. It doesn't feel right to have him fight Demetrious Johnson quite yet. The only guy in the top 10 at bantamweight that's not booked or not coming off a loss is Brad Pickett. Another possibility could be Damacio Page if he gets by Brian Bowles next month. This is a mess right here, that's for certain. I just want to avoid a rematch at all costs. Let's go with Pickett and Page as another possibility.. I'm stumped here, though.

Stay with us after the jump for the prelim winners, including Donald Cerrone, Chad Mendes and Johnson.


Donald Cerrone: Cerrone's performance in this one wasn't too stellar early on. Paul Kelly hit him in the face a lot, Cerrone, like usual, took it and came back to win via submission in the second round. Vintage Cerrone performance, for the most part. He won, yes, but the problem here is that he got lit up on the feet by Paul Kelly. Cerrone is talented but I'm still not completely sold on him in the UFC quite yet (at least on making it to the top level. He's certainly a UFC-caliber fighter). I'd love to see him fight Kenny Florian, but with Florian hurt, that's not going to materialize. Initially I thought Matt Wiman for this spot, but then remembered I projected him to face Mac Danzig next, so that's out. Paul Taylor, with his big win on this card, would probably be the best option at this point. It's not time to throw Cerrone into the deep end quite yet.

Chad Mendes: Interesting case here with Mendes. I thought he looked the best he has so far in his fight with fourth-ranked Michihiro Omigawa, moving his Zuffa record to 5-0, but I still feel he needs more time to develop his overall game before being thrust into title contention. We have to remember Mendes has only been fighting for a little more than two years. He's still raw, for the most part. I don't feel Mendes is quite ready for a title shot, but it's going to be hard to deny him one following another win. Let's see him face Diego Nunes in a title eliminator bout. That should be good.

Demetrious Johnson: Here's a case where not wanting a rematch ruins my plan. In my ideal world, if Torres is able to face Page, that leaves Johnson to face Pickett. Unfortunately, that won't fly because they already met at WEC 48. So where does that leave Johnson? After his decision win over Norifumi Yamamoto on Saturday, I don't want to see Johnson put in there with Torres quite yet. I'd like to avoid that if at all possible, actually. What would be interesting and fresh here would be Johnson against Joseph Benavidez should he get by Ian Loveland at UFC 128. He could also face Brian Bowles if he beats Page. It's tough to book Johnson right now because a lot of people he could face currently have fights, so we have to wait on the outcomes of those before making any type of solid projection. A top-10 opponent is in his future, though. 

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