UFC Hidalgo was kinda wild. Four underdogs took home wins and a lot of questionable reffing and judging put question marks on what would otherwise have been pretty straightforward bouts. Most importantly, there were very few “bad” fights. Fans got striking battles, grappling battles, knockouts, submissions, and controversy. Just about everything you could hope for from an underwhelming fight card that was always going to be plagued by TV pacing.
So, after a fun night of fights, it’s time to look at what fun future fights it may have given us. How far are Michael Johnson and Derek Brunson from title contention? Is Antonio Carlos Junior back on track?
As always, I’ll be following the Silva/Shelby method of similarly tenured fighters and a winner/winner, loser/loser base style. If need be, things will get a little free form, but I’ll try to keep it sensible.
MICHAEL JOHNSON: “The Menace” has a problem. There’s not really any sensible fights available right now. The only guy ranked above him that he hasn’t fought and who isn’t booked is no. 1 contender Khabib Nurmagomedov. Would that be a cool fight? Sure. Does it seem particularly likely that he’ll get it? No. The best option is probably for him to hope Michael Chiesa heals up quick and then push for that fight. But, if Chiesa’s injury time table is longer than makes sense, then he should fight the loser of RDA vs. Ferguson. He’s already got a win over Ferguson from way back in the day, but both men are very different fighters now. And Johnson’s been around long enough and beat enough of the right people to get a big fight to really bump him up the ranks. Johnson vs. Chiesa if Chiesa is ready soon, but Johnson vs. RDA/Ferguson loser if he can stand to wait.
DUSTIN POIRIER: Hard, hard loss for Poirier that really puts the breaks on his title run. I don’t think he could get the fight, but he could push for a bout against Gilbert Melendez right now, given Melendez’s own three fight losing streak. Assuming that doesn’t happen however, Poirier should fight the loser of Dariush vs. Magomedov. It’s a step back for Poirier, but after getting blown out like that a step back makes sense. Poirier vs. Dariush/Magomedov loser is the fight to book.
DEREK BRUNSON: Lotta people out there calling for Brunson/Mousasi, but Mousasi is already booked to fight Belfort, and if he wins, I’m not sure that Brunson is gonna be next in line. As such, Robert Whittaker seems like the logical next fight for Brunson. Whittaker is surging, but it’s the kind of wins that line up nicely alongside Brunson’s. The winner of a fight like that would absolutely be in line for a top shelf opponent, and even a shot at the middleweight title (in some sort of Bisping-esque everyone is hurt scenario). Hopefully, Whittaker is ready to go for the Melbourne card because Brunson vs. Whittaker would be just perfect for it.
URIAH HALL: The nice thing for Hall is, that even at 5-5 in the UFC, he’s still very clearly a top 15 middleweight. That’s just how the division shakes out. It’s shallow outside the elite few. IF the UFC wanted to go all in on the weirdness, they could book Hall vs. Hector Lombard. If they want to treat Hall a little more like a competitive top guy and less like a sideshow attraction, I’d say give him Thales Leites. Leites is coming off a solid win, but it seems like he’s plateaued outside the top 10. A fight with Hall would be a chance for him to go on a run and a chance for Hall to prove he’s still got the ability to beat good vets. Hall vs. Leites is my first choice.
EVAN DUNHAM: Dunham took Rick Glenn to the woodshed in an entertaining fight that probably shouldn’t have happened. Now he needs to get a good bout with someone operating near the lightweight elite. Part of me wants to say Nik Lentz, since they’re both coming of big-brotherings of new UFC signees, but I think I’d really like to see him face Will Brooks if Brooks beats Oliveira. And, Mairbek Taisumov is always floating out there if he can ever get a visa or a fight in Europe. All things considered Lentz is probably the best immediate option, but Brooks would make a really fun bout.
CHAS SKELLY: Skelly called out Darren Elkins, but I see no point in that fight. Skelly got beat in a way that pretty much looked like he’d get beat 7/10 times. Down the road, maybe he gets another shot at Elkins, but not right away. On the flip side, there are three fights that Skelly could go after, Yair Rodriguez, Tatsuya Kawajiri, and Brian Ortega. Since Ortega is injured and Yair is streaking to the top, Tatsuya Kawajiri seems the most likely first option.
ANTONIO CARLOS JUNIOR: As much as I’d love to rush ACJ into a bigger fight after this win, the truth is he should be coddled as much as possible. MW prospects are like rare diamonds and a guy like ACJ who is learning his craft in the UFC needs cage time. I want to recommend a fight with Anthony Smith, who just lost an ugly decision to Cezar Ferriera, but that may be a little too soft considering how bad Smith’s takedown defense looked. Instead I’m going to say Trevor Smith. “Hot Sauce is a seasoned vet, but he’s not a great finisher and has a history of losing to good competition. Smith should be able to test ACJ’s resolve in similar ways to Dan Kelly without being a complete walkover in a way that worse fighters might be. Antonio Carlos Junior vs. Trevor Smith should be ACJ’s next fight.
OTHER BOUTS: Glenn vs. Caceres, Carneiro vs. Moraes, Robertson vs. Akhmedov, Makhachev vs. Hein, Wade vs. Matthews, Blanco vs. Tavares, Benitez vs. Jason, Sicilia vs. Tukhugov, Muhammad vs. Coy, A. Montano vs. O’Reilly, Leleco vs. Mutapcic, Quinonez vs. J. Sanders, Gomez vs. Vera, Brown vs. Westcott, Montano vs. Zafir, Perez vs. Issa, Morales vs. Salazar