The UFC ended its three-week hiatus to begin a three-event stretch that spans over eight days, starting with their anticipated return to Abu Dhabi, which took place on Friday afternoon. The card, while only featuring a fraction of the starpower placed on the first trip back at UFC 112, was a stellar one overall.
Here are the fights to make after UFC Fight Night Abu Dhabi:
The main event of the evening featured a heavyweight clash between Roy "Big Country" Nelson and Antonio "Minotauro" Nogueira, and it ended in predictable fashion. Nelson hovered around the Brazilian, peppering him with punches and eventually landed a clean strike that rocked Nogueira before knocking him unconscious with another big right hand. It was a devastating KO loss for the former PRIDE champion, and marked his third career loss via KO/TKO.
For Nelson, the victory was an opportunity to snap a two fight losing streak. His last win came in the form of a KO against Cheick Kongo back at UFC 159. "Big Country" hovers around in an interesting section of the heavyweight division, where he is not a threat to the title or the upper echelon, yet is far better than the majority of the division below the Top 5. At this stage, there are two opponents that stick out for Nelson, both of whom have been mentioned by fans and pundits alike. Either Nelson should be matched up against Mark Hunt, which may be unlikely considering Hunt and Schaub have had a recent back-and-forth, or Josh Barnett, who needs a big win to remain relevant in the division.
Clay Guida put on one of the best fights of the night en route to a unanimous decision victory against Tatsuya Kawajiri in the con-main event of the evening. Compared to his last three fights, this was a positive step for Guida, who not only out-grappled Kawajiri, but also knocked him down early in the opening round and was close to finishing the fight.
Following the fight, Guida wasted little time in calling out the UFC's "leprechaun" Conor McGregor, and while that would be a fantastic fight, it is highly unlikely that the promotion goes with that booking. Instead, I propose another match-up for Guida - Dennis Bermudez. The TUF veteran is on a six-fight winning streak since losing in the TUF 14 finals to Diego Brandao, with victories over the likes of Steve Siler and Jimy Hettes in his most recent octagon outings.
Ryan LaFlare extended his undefeated streak to 11-0, with four straight wins in the UFC, after defeating John Howard via unanimous decision on the main card. The fight was an entertaining affair for the most part, and while Howard was on the receiving end of one of the most devastating low blows in recent memory, he managed to continue after a 4+ minute break and eventually lost a decision to the American.
Next for LaFlare should be a match-up against Gunnar Nelson, who returned to the octagon from a year long layoff to defeat Omari Akhmedov via first round submission. This match-up has the potential to be an outstanding grappling contest, and would be a fantastic way to determine which of the two competitors is the legitimate prospect in the division.
4. Ramsey Nijem vs. Cruickshank/Koch winner
Palestine-native Ramsey Nijem picked up a surprising upset on the main card, as he defeated touted Iranian Beneil Dariush via first round TKO. Clearly fuelled by the emotion of fighting in front of a Middle Eastern crowd, Nijem proceeded to inform the fans that he would be "bringing a title to the Middle East."
While that is unlikely to happen, the win is certainly one of Nijem's best in the UFC octagon, and will warrant him a stiffer challenge in his next fight. Nijem should be a matched-up against the winner of the Erik Koch vs Daron Cruickshank bout, which takes place at UFC Fight Night 40.
5. Thales Leites vs. Tavares/Romero winner
One of the more unexpected finishes that took place on the Abu Dhabi fight card was on the preliminary portion of the event, as former middleweight title challenger Thales Leites picked up a dominant first round TKO victory over Trevor Smith. Following the fight, Leites expressed interest in being matched up with a Top 10 fighter in the division, and considering he is 3-0 since returning to the UFC, it seems like a fair request.
With wins over Tom Watson, Ed Herman and now Trevor Smith, Leites deserves a step up in competition, someone such as either Brad Tavares or Yoel Romero, depending on who is victorious at UFC on FOX 11