UFC 198 ended up being a hell of a card for the promotion. Five KOs, a submission, and big upset wins for 4 fights on the card, including huge wins for two old-school Brazilian veterans in front of home crowds. Lots for fans to be happy about, all capped off by a changing of the guard that left the 45,000 strong crowd just about dead silent. That means, it's time to sort through the rubble and figure out what to build next.
That's where the art of fantasy fight booking lies (and it is an art). Picking out just the right next move for a fighter to make takes a certain amount of panache and, dare I say it, genius. So, I'm putting my immense matchmaking talents to use, under the Silva/Shelby model of winner vs. winner, loser vs. loser, tenure vs. tenure to give you the best possible future fights for each of the major contenders from UFC 198.
STIPE MIOCIC: Two choices out in front of Stipe, but with Cain Velasquez already booked to face Travis Browne at UFC 200, it seems like this is exactly the right time to book Stipe Miocic vs. Alistair Overeem. Overeem has earned his shot, he's got as much name value as anyone over 205 lbs and it brings to fruition a plan years in the making. And, if Overeem wins, he has yet to fight Cain and has a win over Werdum, so that keeps options wide open. Stipe Miocic vs. Alistair Overeem.
FABRICIO WERDUM: I know when I wrote up Rothwell's post fight matchmaking, I put him against Brown off a loss to Cain, but why not Werdum off a loss to Miocic. Obviously both Arlovski and Barnett are out there as well (hell Arlovski beat Werdum once) but I want to see Arlovski and Barnett fight. So the most sensible top shelf matchup is Fabricio Werdum vs. Ben Rothwell.
RONALDO SOUZA: He's the only meaningful contender right now for the winner of Rockhold vs. Weidman 2. He's coming off a win now, and Romero is still sidelined and while Bisping would be a nice career twilight moment, it seems that the UFC might have Bisping picked to maintain his gatekeeper role. So after UFC 199, it's time for Jacare to get a title shot.
VITOR BELFORT: Well, Bisping did say he hasn't yet been offered the Robert Whittaker fight, despite that reportedly being in the works, and Bisping vs. Belfort 2 would be a lot of fun. Otherwise it seems like the UFC aren't going to get Belfort and Anderson Silva to fight each other and he and Rashad were longtime Blackzilians teammates. But, if the UFC has other plans for Michael Bisping then... Why not Vitor Belfort vs. Nick Diaz? Weird fight, but I think it'd be crazy awesome.
CRIS CYBORG: Assuming the UFC doesn't just let Cyborg waste more time fighting random people over in Invicta (I'm sorry Invicta, I love you but this is what's happening), and assuming that they can't convince the winner of Pena/Zingano, Holm/Shevchenko, or Ronda Rousey to fight her, then let's see if we can get Cris Cyborg vs. Germaine de Randamie. De Randamie has looked great and is a huge 135er with a brutal cut, it'd be fun to see that happen. If it can't, then just about anyone will do.
MAURICIO RUA: Assuming he won't retire, because nobody retires off a win, we might as well book a new tough fight for Shogun. Most of the guys ranked above him and not booked, or injured right now are coming off a loss, so there's no great first option. Still, given the nature of the division, you gotta take what's out there. Jimi Manuwa has been laid up with an injury for a bit. Time to book Manuwa vs. Shogun. It'd be a hell of an action fight whatever happened.
COREY ANDERSON: I had this whole plan about booking something other than Anderson vs. Cummins (because Anderson doesn't need a much easier fight than the one he just had, and Cummins apparently does), but there is literally nobody else to put Anderson against right now coming off a loss that makes more sense than Cummins. Te Huna? Pokrajac? I'm not going to offer up Anderson vs. Gustafsson for crying out loud. So Anderson/Cummins it is.
BRYAN BARBERENA: It's time to start throwing a lot of respect Bryan Barberena's way. He's beat two big prospects in a row, and this latest win was especially impressive. he's got the combination of toughness, relentlessness, and output that makes him a great spoiler. As that's the case, how about a shot against another fun action talent on a hot streak, Santiago Ponzinibbio? Ponzinibbio seems to pace himself better than Northcutt or Alves, and should make a better test for Barberena from bell to bell. Bryan Barberena vs. Santiago Ponzinibbio is my pick.
WARLLEY ALVES: Just like he did against Alan Jouban, Alves fought dumb. Only this time, the judges made him pay for it. If the UFC hasn't cut Omari Akhmedov, that'd make a great bounce back fight for Alves, but they might have. The next choice for me would be Sean Spencer, who has been sidelined since taking a beating from Mike Pyle. I'll say Alves vs. Akhmedov because it'd involve more power, but both are fine.
DEMIAN MAIA: Word on the street is that the UFC is doing Robbie Lawler vs. Tyron Woodley at UFC 201. That's fine, not thrilling, but fine. If Maia wants to wait around for a next title shot after that, that's fine too. There's no guarnatee he'd get it though, there are plenty of challengers that would ensure more action packed fights. So, if Demian Maia has to find something to fill his time, I'd love to see him fight Carlos Condit. If Condit isn't taking anything but a title fight, then the winner of Hendricks vs. Gastelum would also make sense. Still Maia/Condit would be choice one.
MATT BROWN: He took the hardest fight available and he lost. No shame in that, but that does mean it may be time to take... not the hardest fight available, and instead a fun brawl that Matt Brown can do his thing with. To that end, I say give Brown the loser of Saffiedine vs. Story. That should be a good time no matter what.
THIAGO SANTOS: Santos is charging hard up the ranks and making a great case for himself being a future top 10 talent. Unfortunately, Natal, Leites, and Dollaway are all coming off losses and I seriously doubt he gets the winner of Henderson/Lombard. That means, he'll need to take another build up fight. The winner of Chris Camozzi vs. Vitor Miranda feels like the right fight, although Magnus Cedenblad would also be a strong opponent. I'll stick with Thiago Santos vs. the Camozzi/Miranda winner.
FRANCISCO TRINALDO: Trinaldo is on one hell of a roll and at this point he should be chipping away at the edges of the top 15. Unfortunately lightweight is very booked right now at the top. Nik Lentz continues to stand out as a good experienced lightweight without a fight, but if he hasn't taken one yet, I don't feel like Trinaldo would be it. So instead I'm going to say Trinaldo should fight Rustam Khabilov, who I had previously marked for the Vick/Dunham winner before Dunham got hurt, but would probably be better suited to this fight. Khabilov vs. Trinaldo it is.
JOHN LINEKER: Well, it wasn't what I had planned for John Dodson originally, but I suddenly can't go another minute without seeing John Lineker fight John Dodson. There is no reason not to make this fight right now and cram it onto the next possible card. DO IT NOW! Lineker vs. Dodson is essential.
LIL NOG: I can't believe I'm writing about Lil' Nog right now, but there you have it. He got a big win, he's a longtime vet, he deserves a moment in the sun. Ed Herman has been around forever and just got a big win, that's the best possible fight for Nogeuira to take at the moment. I mean it's either that or Jan Blachowicz, and frankly I'd rather see Herman vs. Lil Nog.
SERGIO MORAES: Moraes is in a funky spot of being a winning fighter who just doesn't seem to be getting any momentum at all. A draw here certainly didn't help that at all, especially not in a fight he was expected to dominate. I was trying to make more elaborate plans around him, but honestly I think the best fight would be against Roan Carneiro, as both men are aggressive, fun grapplers who really have something to prove and have more mileage than fan familiarity. Moraes vs. Carniero is the fight to make.
OTHER BOUTS: Smith vs. Reneau, Medeiros vs. Escudero, Font vs. Lapilus, Chagas vs. Morono, Moicano vs. Rosa, Tukhugov vs. Hirota