Another UFC event is wrapped up in the books and even though there wasn't a fight that made me say 'Wow!' there was still a lot of solid action. One man revitalized his title aspirations while sinking another mans in the process and two new Ultimate Fighters were crowned. There were also numerous debuts on the card and some may even pose as title contenders in the near future.
I'm just rambling at this point so I will just get to it:
Nate Diaz: I'm sure I'm not the only one that was surprised by Diaz winning via strikes... but it is worth noting he beat Rory Markham in a similar fashion. Diaz has shown great boxing many times before, but his strikes usually just pepper his opponent to the point that their face looks brutal. He laid it on thick to Maynard as soon as he recognized that Maynard was hurt though and showed the finishing ability many (if not most) of us forgot that he has. In fairly typical Diaz fashion though, his post fight interview didn't clear up any of the questions that Jon Anik had for him. Is he moving to welterweight or is he staying at lightweight? He showed in his earlier stint at welterweight he doesn't have the strength there to compete with the best in the division, so I would hope he stays where he is at. If he ever attempts to diversify his game (the judo flip was a sign he could be doing so), he could still make another run at the title.
There are two fights that intrigue me for Diaz to take. The first one is Khabib Nurmagomedov. Nurmagomedov hasn't faced anyone with the submission game or boxing of Diaz and it would certainly prove to be an awesome test for Nurmagomedov. On the other hand, Diaz has struggled with talented grapplers and Nurmagomedov's sambo background would provide Diaz with a new style he isn't quite familiar with. The other one is Rafael dos Anjos. dos Anjos has flown under the radar for quite some time. People really only started acknowledging him as a contender after he beat Donald Cerrone (myself included), but after he dropped his first two UFC bouts, he quietly accumulated a 9-2 record. His striking has evolved to the point that he is capable of dropping an opponent (see George Sotiropoulos) and he has always been a great grappler. Sounds like a very evenly matched fight if I might say so.
On a quick side note, there has been talk of Diaz meeting two other fighters: Diego Sanchez and Anthony Pettis. Sanchez is coming off of a loss to Gilbert Melendez and even though the fight was awesome, it wasn't a close fight. Sanchez has some work to do to get another shot at a Top 10 fighter if you ask me. As for Pettis, we all know he is the champ and we all know he is injured. I think it is safe to say Nate is trying to take a page out of his brother Nick's book and talk his way to the front of the line. Can't blame him for trying, but I don't think it will work at this point... at least not yet.
Gray Maynard: How the mighty have fallen. Heading into his title match with Frankie Edgar 3 years ago, Maynard was sitting at 10-0 officially. Since that time he has gone 1-3-1. It isn't like he has lost to a bunch of chumps (Edgar, TJ Grant, and now Diaz), but to be the best you gotta beat the best and Maynard isn't doing that anymore. What is even worse, all of those losses have come by KO/TKO. Has Maynard's chin disappeared? Is he even relevant in the division anymore?
At this point it is safe to say that Maynard's days as a title contender are over. That doesn't mean that there aren't any intriguing fights to match him up with though. My favorite one would be Takanori Gomi. At one point both were considered to be Top 3 lightweights in the world (if not the best) and have been in decline for a while since. Gomi has flashed his former self every now and then, but not to the point he is considered a contender. I'm guessing Gomi would prefer to be matched with fairly big name opponents and Maynard would surely qualify as that. If Maynard were to get KO'd by Gomi (or whoever the hell he fights next) I would recommend he retire as soon as possible. Chuck Liddell learned that the hard way. I hope the same thing isn't happening here, but it very well could be.
Julianna Pena: Wow. Pena looks very much like she could be the real deal. Though she still has some holes in her striking technique, she is a powerful and aggressive puncher that uses her striking well to get the fight to the ground where she is dominant. She had two submissions in the TUF house and showed vicious ground and pound on Jessica Rakoczy in their bout for the TUF title. I have believed ever since Jessica Eye upset Sarah Kaufman that she should face the winner of the female TUF championship and still believe that. Eye would certainly be a tough test, but nothing has shown that Pena wouldn't be up for it. She has shown a lot of ability and could be fighting for the title within two years if she lives up to the potential that she has been showing. Throw in the fact that bad blood seems to be brewing between her and Ronda Rousey... the UFC could have a future rivalry building.
Jessica Rakoczy: Rakoczy showed a lot of spunk against Pena, but was too small in the end. The UFC would need to develop a flyweight division for her to make a true impact for the company. She is certainly worth bringing back for another swing. There are a few other fighters that have the same problem as Rakoczy (lack of her true division), so she could still make some noise. Her striking could get her some wins and fans as she is still capable of scoring a highlight reel KO. Rosi Sexton is still on the roster (somewhat surprisingly) and would likely provide a stiff (and fun to watch) test for Rakoczy.
Chris Holdsworth: Holdsworth came out and did what he has done before: show solid striking and wait for the other fighter to make a mistake before getting the submission on the ground to become the TUF champion. He's young and talented enough that he could make some noise rather than blend in with the rest of the bantamweight division. No need to rush him though. He isn't ready for the best in the division yet. Johnny Eduardo is a longtime savvy veteran who has no long term future in the UFC (I know it sounds cruel... but its true). He should provide a stern test for Holdsworth and give the UFC a better idea of what the future holds for Holdsworth.
David Grant: Davey made a mistake and Holdsworth capitalized. Simple as that. The first round was close and Grant showed that he does have the ability to hang around the UFC for a while. He showed solid striking, but once he got rocked with a head kick in the second, he seemed to lose his bearings and made the mistake of giving up his back. Experience is going to be his best friend as he goes along. A match with Vaughn Lee makes the most sense. Lee is a fellow Englishman, has been around the game a while, and provides a stiff test. It would certainly be a winnable match for the both of them and you hold it in England, its gonna have the crowd support behind it as well.
Jessamyn Duke: With her frame, Duke might have the most potential of any of the female participants in this season and she showed why in her fight with Peggy Morgan. Duke showed lots of aggression outstriking Morgan quite handily and showed submission ability in the first round with her triangle attempt. She allowed Morgan to control a good portion of the third round showing she still has some room to grow. Her looks and aggressiveness also make her a potential fan favorite. Amanda Nunes has been aggressive in each of her Octagon appearances and a bout between these two would likely result in fireworks. The thought of it makes me shiver in excitement.
Peggy Morgan: Morgan has a frame (like Duke) that screams potential, but she didn't show a whole lot in her fight with Duke. She didn't show much in her fight with Sarah Moras either. If Morgan was about 5 years younger (she will be 34 in December), it would likely be worthwhile to give her another look within the Octagon. But her advanced age (at least in this business) is working against her and I don't see the UFC bringing her back for another fight. Perhaps if she can pick up an impressive win or two on the smaller circuit... but otherwise I believe that the UFC has seen the last of Peggy Morgan. At least she has her teaching career to fall back on.
Raquel Pennington: I'm sure that I'm going to sound like a hater, but Pennington did not impress me at all in her victory over Roxanne Modafferi. Her victory over Jessamyn Duke in the TUF house showed so much potential as she threw fists with reckless abandon, but she has been way to tentative for her own good ever since then. She simply overpowered Modafferi even though Modafferi outworked her. If Pennington will let her fists fly, she could make some serious noise in the women's division. Hopefully more experience will bring that out of her as she seems to be thinking to much in the ring. Germaine de Randamie has an outstanding kickboxing background and should be able to bring out the best in Pennington.
Roxanne Modafferi: Like the rest of the world, I love Roxy. But I don't believe that she is UFC material at this point in her career. She has been through a lot of wars, has officially lost her last 6 in a row, and if you count her time in the TUF house, she's lost 7 of her last 8. If the UFC develops a women's flyweight division any time soon, she might be worth another cup of coffee there. But, like Rakoczy, she is too small at bantamweight and has continually been overpowered. She even had a smart strategy against Pennington and it wasn't enough. It pains me to say it, but at this point it is best to say goodbye to Roxy.
Akira Corssani: Corssani might have walked out the winner, but he did absolutely nothing to move up the standings. Blanco took him down easily before an illegal knee as Corssani was getting to his feet led to a DQ victory. A rematch wouldn't be a bad idea, but I have a gut feeling that isn't going to happen in this case. Andre Fili would be a great choice as he is coming off of a dominant performance over Jeremy Larsen in his UFC debut. This may not seem like a step up for Corssani, but based on how he obtained this victory, he doesn't deserve one (though it is acknowledged it isn't his fault how he got the victory).
Maximo Blanco: For all the 25 seconds that the fight lasted, Blanco looked good. But a mental slippage led to a DQ loss. Its hard to figure out what to do with Blanco at this point though as it is hard to look at this loss as, well, a loss. Doo Ho Choi was recently signed to a UFC contract and has a lot of hype behind him as one of the top prospects to come out of Asia in a long time. Blanco might be an ideal candidate to test his abilities.
Tom Niinimaki: Niinimaki played with fire grappling with an Abu Dahbi champion in Rani Yahya, but was able to use his strength effectively to come out on top in his UFC debut, earning a decision over a respected veteran. Niinimaki should get a an opponent in the bottom of the Top 10 or just outside of the Top 10. Dennis Bermudez has won 5 in a row and is hovering in the rankings in the area just mentioned. But Bermudez has never faced someone with the experience and savvy possessed by Niinimaki. This match would serve as a great test for both fighters.
Rani Yahya: Niinimaki has been around a long time and beaten some tough competition, but this loss still has to be very disappointing for Yahya. He has been middling at the bottom of cards for a while now and I have to believe beating Niinimaki would have earned him a step up. Back to the drawing board it seems. Daniel Pineda has served a similar role to Yahya; beat those at the bottom of the division and often send them packing, but falling short themselves when given a step up in competition. It wouldn't surprise me to see this serve as a loser leaves town match. Another option I could foresee: Yahya dropping back to bantamweight.
Jared Rosholt: Rosholt's performance wasn't the most electrifying debut in the Octagon, but the UFC should feel good about his potential. Rosholt hit the canvas twice quickly in the first round only to show great composure as he never panicked and waited for Walt Harris to tire and grind out a victory. Rare for a fighter to show the patience and smarts someone as big and young as Rosholt is. The heavyweight division is shallow though, so there aren't a whole lot of options. Daniel Omielanczuk is coming off a fairly sloppy stoppage of Nandor Guelmino and could be a wise choice. Recent addition Alexey Oleinik should be another option. Neither option would be considered throwing him to the wolves, but I wouldn't want to do that quite yet.
Walt Harris: Even though he ended up losing, I think Harris has some of the UFC brass salivating at his potential. He showed rare quickness and speed for an athlete so large and his knockdowns of Rosholt were close to being highlight stoppages. Once Harris tired though, Rosholt found ways to get past Harris' reach and get him to the ground. Considering none of his victories left the first round, I don't think anyone can say they were surprised by these events. With his fight inexperience though, I think the UFC should be patient with him. Considering the aforementioned lack of heavyweight depth, I expect them to do so. Guto Inocente is still expecting to make his UFC debut and with his kickboxing background, there is a very good chance someone would go to sleep. Nikita Krylov is someone else worth considering.
Sean Spencer: Not a whole lot was learned about Spencer that we weren't aware of beforehand. He swarmed Drew Dober with punches in bunches in route to a unanimous decision. He showed some power though, rocking Dober towards the end of the fight. But it should be noted that Dober is a natural lightweight fighting on short notice. He was originally scheduled to fight Sergio Moraes, and trying to make that fight once again makes a lot of sense. Igor Araujo, Yan Cabral, and Zak Cummings are all in the same neighborhood and are submission savvy as well. There are a lot of options for Spencer here.
Drew Dober: This isn't going to sound very complimentary, but the thing that I most took out of Dober's official debut is that he has a hell of a chin. I thought he should have gone out after some of those shots at the end of the fight but he hung in there til the end. Dober's takedowns were largely neutralized, but should be able to show more once he gets an opportunity to show what he can do in his natural weight class at lightweight. Mike Rio is the name that stands out in my mind as the most logical choice for his next opponent... if Rio isn't released. Kazuki Tokudome is another option to consider.
Josh Sampo: Sampo didn't get his UFC career off to the greatest start by missing weight, but considering that he had roughly 10 days notice, I'm sure that he was granted a little more room for error than usual. He didn't look dominating, but certainly looked very good. He's not known for his striking, but did rock Benoit in the first round and showed an aggressive submission game before eventually catching Benoit in the RNC. Sampo has been floating around in most Top 10 lists in the division for a while now and showed that he could be a viable contender. If Darren Uyenoyama is able to beat his teammate Alptekin Ozkilic, he would pose as a viable option for his next opponent. Dustin Ortiz, who is coming off a victory in his UFC debut as well, seems to be a better fit though.
Ryan Benoit: Benoit has nothing to be ashamed of. He successfully defended a number of submission attempts and showed some nice power. Sampo just seemed to have a lot more savvy and waited for his opportunities to present themselves rather than force something that isn't there. At 24, he should have a very bright future in the UFC. Sampo took the fight to the ground to play to his own strengths, but I feel that Benoit would make for a fun time in a slugfest. Louis Gaudinot has never shied away from letting the fists fly and coming off of a disappointing loss to Tim Elliot. We watch fights to be entertained, right? I have a hard time believing that fight wouldn't do it.
I'd love to hear others opinions on potential matches... or if you just plain feel that I am full of crap. That works too.