Fans who looked forward to Wednesday's UFC Fight Night: Cerrone vs. Miller got their money's worth, whether via attending the event in Atlantic City or justifying the cable bill required to get Fox Sports 1. It was really a fun night of fights that should be the standard for how a UFC card should look on cable TV. You don't HAVE to have a title fight as the main event or even a #1 contender bout as long as you can get a good mix of "action fighters" and legitimate contenders/top 10 fighters spread throughout the show. Six main card fights, six finishes, and many many bruised bodies.
Anyway, we've got some matchmaking to do. I'm taking charge of this feature before handing it back to Kyle McLachlan after this Saturday's UFC Fight Night in Ireland.
Donald Cerrone. Prior to joining the UFC, Donald Cerrone hadn't won any of his MMA fights by KO or TKO. Since then? He's knocked out Charles Oliveira, Melvin Guillard, Adriano Martins, and Jim Miller. That is serious serious business. Cerrone is must-see TV, and hopefully the ratings indicate that he is at least a television draw, because he's one of the most entertaining fighters in the sport. I'm 100% for a five-round main event fight against Khabib Nurmagomedov. And yes, the fight has to be five rounds, and the winner should get a guaranteed title shot.
Jim Miller. As a fan of Jim Miller, I've been skeptical about his standing as a top 10 lightweight for quite some time, especially after Pat Healy choked him unconscious. It's not an outright decline, but the Healy fight is pretty indicative of him no longer meriting consideration as a top-tier lightweight. He absolutely will continue to mangle anyone outside the top 20, provide a tough fight for the 8-19 range and win most of them, but lose comprehensively to the elite of the division. Miller is a gatekeeper at this stage in his career, and I think he'd be a stern test for someone like Michael Johnson (pending the severity of Johnson's recent injury).
Edson Barboza. You may have noticed that Barboza kicks really hard, and Dunham is the 4th different opponent Barboza has beaten in the UFC via head kick, leg kick, or body kick. His loss to Donald Cerrone in April and near-loss to Danny Castillo has me very wary of giving him a major step up in competition, but there is clearly no shortage of opponents who can fight him. The winner of Jorge Masvidal/Daron Cruickshank would be excellent for a PPV opener, a Fox card, or a Fox Sports 1 co-main.
Evan Dunham. Remember when Evan Dunham was one of the next big things in the UFC? After a 4-0 start, those days are well and truly gone. Dunham has always been at least a reliable action guy even when he was considered to be a future contender, and I think the UFC recognizes that, so his job is not in serious jeopardy. If Anthony Njokuani hasn't been cut yet, I vouch for that scrap.
Rick Story. Fairly simple win over an opponent who was overmatched on paper. Story hasn't really beaten anyone of note since he bested Thiago Alves over three years ago. It's hard to vouch for him to be fighting established contenders when he's repeatedly lost to them, but he's currently a great gatekeeper for emerging prospects. One of those prospects is the undefeated Ryan LaFlare, and I'd like to see a Story vs. LaFlare showdown.
Leonardo Mafra. Story was a nightmare match-up for him made worse by weighing in at 165.5 lbs and looking sluggish after the first few minutes and having no answer for Story when on the ground. Give him fellow TUF Brazil fighter Daniel Sarafian on a Brazil show.
Joe Proctor. It's a bit of a comeback win for Proctor, who arguably lost the first round and then mesmerized everyone with his nasty hematoma near his left ear. He's 3-1 in the UFC but hasn't really done anything "outstanding" to make a name for himself. James Krause looks like a nice next step for the TUF 15 alum.
Justin Salas. If I'm being totally honest, I really didn't think Salas was 3-3 in the UFC. All of his losses have been via stoppage and while he protested the TKO vs. Joe Proctor, apparently he was still wobbly when angrily pleading his case. It's probably back to the Fight Pass purgatory for him against someone like Charlie Brenneman, who is indeed getting another fight in the promotion.
John Lineker. Make weight? Check. Throw a lot of punches with intent to destroy ribs and liver? Check. Get another TKO win? Check. He is a whirlwind of violence and with improved takedown defense and refined striking technique he can be a real force at 125 lbs for years to come. However, he lost a clear decision to Ali Bagautinov earlier this year and still isn't reliable enough as far as making weight, so let's pump the breaks on contender talk. As much as I'd like to see him face Brad Pickett or Ian McCall, the winner of that fight could be fighting for the title at the end of the year. So the next option is Dustin Ortiz, with a backup plan of Kyoji Horiguchi.
Alptekin Ozkilic. With a full camp behind him, his striking looked improved as he was able to catch Lineker cleanly multiple times -- Lineker isn't the hardest target to hit -- but during the 2nd round it felt like a matter of "when" and not "if" he'd be stopped. He's 1-2 in the UFC so a match-up with Shane Howell fits the bill for "loser gets cut".
Lucas Martins. Hopefully Martins is comfortable at featherweight because he's been in 3 weight classes in 4 fights. The finish was crisp and helped salt away a fight he was on the verge of winning 29-28 in all likelihood. While I know some people are averse to Winner vs. Loser matchmaking, I'd like to see him fight Akira Corassani.
Alex White. Yeah, if you want to keep your chin up in the air forever you're probably getting knocked out. The Estevan Payan win was quick, and I was hoping the bad habit was just UFC jitters or something. Turns out his defense needs some serious serious work, because offensively he wasn't really that bad and was able to at least snag round 2. I'm thinking he gets someone like Mark Eddiva next.
Aljamain Sterling. He's a real special talent in a division desperately craving up-and-comers. Beating up Hugo Viana in his 2nd UFC fight goes a long way towards making him top 15 caliber. A fight with Yves Jabouin can give him that "seasoned veteran" type of badge where a win should be enough to get him ranked.