In some ways, trying to match-up next fights after UFC 229 feels like a fool’s errand. The event was absolutely massive in scale and ripe with storylines, so it should make for easy pickings. But, it’s also so entirely overshadowed by the post-fight antics of Khabib Nurmagomedov that figuring out what will happen next to him seems nearly unfathomable. And that’s to say nothing of Conor McGregor’s recent division-and-sport-wandering fight career and any potential return schedule he might have.
So, now what does the UFC do with Tony Ferguson? Who do you throw in against Derrick Lewis, with the heavyweight title picture tied up? And should the UFC go ahead and keep rushing Dominick Reyes?
To answer all these questions – and more – I’ll be pulling from the classic Silva/Shelby style of fight booking. That means pitting winners against winners, losers against losers, and similarly tenured talents against one another. If you’d like to take your own shot at some fantasy matchmaking glory, leave a comment below starting with the line, “My balls was hot.” I’ll pick one winner from the replies to join me for the next fight card.
This week’s winner is Bloody Elbow moderator Punisher Bass:
Hello Bloody Elbow, my name is Derek Schott but you probably know me better as Punisher Bass. Aka “The worst mod on BE”. An hour ago I was a very very happy MMA fan, as of right now though, not so much. If you want to see me pontificate outside of the confines of BE, you can follow me on twitter @Punisher_Bass.
Bass - I’m writing this literally moments after the post fight fight happened and I’m trying to play mod at the same time. Right now, I say he should be arrested, stripped of his title, and suspended for a good long time. Ferguson is the real champ in my eyes anyway. I hate being a fan of this sport sometimes.
Zane - I’m just gonna go ahead and assume that Khabib walks away from this relatively unscathed. There’s already a slow trend that direction, with McGregor not pressing charges and people that were arrested being released. The commission might suspend him – maybe – but I would be surprised if it’s long enough that the UFC strips him. More likely they just fine him a ton of money and he keeps the belt. If that happens, then the UFC should go ahead and book Nurmagomedov vs. Tony Ferguson... again. That fight is utterly snakebit, but it’s still an amazingly cool match that I want to see like nothing else. And, if Khabib does get stripped, then go ahead and book it anyway, when he comes back. It’s not like there’s an obvious fight for Tony out there. Nurmagomedov vs. T-Ferg is my choice.
Bass - Since we were denied a post fight interview, I don’t know what’s next for him. If he opts to keep fighting in the UFC, they could book him for a trilogy fight with Nate Diaz no matter what happens next month. Or they could slide him into a fight for the vacant LW title with who knows. Or maybe he retires to his mansion made of $100 bills.
Zane - Three options seem like they’re out in the open for Conor McGregor: Nate Diaz, Georges St-Pierre, and Anderson Silva. Of all of those, honestly the GSP and Silva fights feel most likely. Diaz is out there as an agent of chaos, there’s no telling what fight he’ll be up for next and how soon after Poirier. Georges St-Pierre has said he’d be interested in the winner of McGregor/Nurmagomedov, likely that means he’d still be up for McGregor off a loss. And, if he asks for Khabib, there’s a chance that fight happens too. Given all that, and with McGregor and Silva both saying they’d like to fight each other, it just might be absurd enough to work. It’d be a legacy fight for McGregor and exactly the kind of big show to make the best use of Silva’s remaining star power. I say go crazy, book Conor McGregor vs. Anderson Silva.
Bass - Tony is either an certified idiot for fighting 6 months after tearing his ACL or an authentic genius for developing his own methods of rehab, because he looks as good as ever out there. He’s next in line for the title no matter who’s waist it’s around, doing anything else to him would be criminal.
Zane - So, I already said that the UFC should book Ferguson vs. Khabib. But, for the sake of argument, let’s say they don’t. McGregor gets a rematch, or Khabib fights GSP instead, and ‘Weird Tony’ is left out in the cold. In that case, the winner of Dustin Poirier vs. Nate Diaz is the obvious choice, and T-Ferg better hope that winner is the ‘Diamond’ if he wants any relative guarantees that the bout gets booked. If Diaz wins and goes AWOL, then Ferguson may wind up fighting Justin Gaethje or something. But, ‘El Cucuy’ vs. the Diaz/Poirier winner should be option A if Khabib can’t be bothered.
Bass - If it hadn’t been called off due to Anthony breaking his hand (good on Duke for doing the right thing and calling it off btw) I think we would have had a FOTY contender on our hands. Instead we got 2 rounds of solid back and forth action. If Pettis did indeed have some sort of mental block, I believe he’s over it now, but he’s probably never going to get any closer to the title than this. So, why not match him with with Gaethje or Vick?
Zane - I would especially support matching up Anthony Pettis with James Vick when he’s ready to return to action. That seems like just the right clash of funky range strikers with tricky sub games. And Vick doesn’t present nearly the same pressure and volume problems that tend to give Pettis fits. A forgiving style-vs-style for both men that either guy could still very easily end up on the wrong end of. If not that, then maybe Francisco Trinaldo or Al Iaquinta? Nah, Vick seems too particularly well suited to a Pettis fight to pass up.
Bass - This one is pretty easy, give him the winner of Smith/Oezdemir. I really don’t know what else to say here other than LHW is a mess right now and that was a goofy finish.
Zane - Much like Thiago Santos last week, off a win like this it’s easy to imagine Reyes being competitive with just about anyone all the way up the division. And unlike Santos, Reyes showed the kind of poise and patience that would have me picking him to win some of those fights at the very highest level as well, rather than just being a fascinating competitor. A fight with Jan Blachowicz could be made, if the UFC really wanted to pull out all the stops. Same with a fight with Volkan Oezdemir (who I think likely wins that Anthony Smith bout). Instead, however, I’ll say Reyes should take on the Santos/Manuwa winner. It’s guaranteed high octane violence, and both Santos and Manuwa are specifically hurt-able in ways that make them dangerous veteran tests that Reyes could still add to his highlight real. Reyes vs. the Santos/Manuwa winner is guaranteed good times.
Bass - Unless WME really are dead set of booking that Lesnar/DC BS title fight, I’d say Derrick is next in line for a shot at the belt, due simply to now being on a three fight win streak. Granted he’s one fight removed from one of the absolute worst of all time, but sending a guy like Volkov to the land of wind and ghosts should mostly erase the memory of the Ngannou snoozer. Failing that, he’d be a good fight for Stipe.
Zane - Derrick Lewis both does not feel at all like a title contender, and is very close to being the title contender in the heavyweight division. However, even by his own admission, he has some work to do if he really wants to be competitive against the likes of DC or Stipe (I’d go 50/50 on Brock). I wouldn’t at all mind seeing him take on the Dos Santos/Tuivasa winner, especially because Tuivasa vs. Lewis would be madness. And if Curtis Blaydes can beat Francis Ngannou, then Lewis vs. Blaydes is functional if not thrilling. Stipe is right there needing a fight, but – as mentioned – that really doesn’t feel competitive. All told, I’m going to say the UFC should do Lewis vs. the JDS/Tuivasa winner, but if he happens to get booked against Stipe I won’t be too mad.
Bass - This one is really hard to pick since most of the women above her either are already booked, have beaten her, or lost at least their last fight if they’re not on a losing streak. Unless she’s next in line for Thug Rose (doubtful), Tatiana Suarez is on a three fight win streak, so why not book her and Michelle in a title eliminator?
Zane - There is a harsh truth in that Tatiana Suarez idea, which basically goes that, if Waterson can’t hang with Suarez, then her title aspirations aren’t all that well founded anyway. As a former Invicta champ and longtime vet, she should be able to win against the a green prospect, right? Yet, it sounds like a terrible fight for Waterson to take, and one she’d almost certainly lose. Instead I’m going to say the UFC should go winner vs. loser and match Waterson up with Karolina Kowalkiewicz. The ‘Polish Princess’ is coming off a crushing loss, but her blend of volume and pace should make for a fun action striking battle that Waterson could compete in without being physically swamped by someone like Tatiana. Waterson vs. Kowalkiewicz is my pick.
Bass - Assuming he didn’t just punch his ticket to a rematch with Henry Cejudo for the title, why not book him against the winner of Ray Borg/Joseph Benavidez next month? He has losses to all three guys so it’s an easy fight to sell with the revenge angle.
Zane - Formiga is trending fast toward Raphael Assuncao territory. Clearly one of the best flyweights in the world, but with just the right combination of losses and unexciting wins to make him seem like a continually unlikely title challenger. Realistically, if DJ hadn’t been dethroned, he’d have been the guy right now. As it is, with a loss to Cejudo already on his record, he’ll likely need to keep plugging away. If the winner of Benavidez vs. Borg gets the next title shot, I’d be 100% behind Formiga fighting Demetrious Johnson. Or, as suggested, if DJ gets a rematch – or some other tomfoolery ensues – then Formiga vs. the Borg/Benavidez winner would be okay (not great). The other, ‘left field’ option is Formiga vs. Deiveson Figueiredo. But, as we just learned, pitting rising prospects with title hopes against Formiga can be a bad plan. At the end of the day, I’ll say book DJ vs. Formiga. Give him a fight with a little shine, even if it’s one he’ll likely lose. And let the Borg/Benavidez winner get the next title shot.
Zane - After her one-sided drubbing of Tonya Evinger, Ladd called for fights with either Bethe Correia or Cat Zingano. Realistically, however, after a win like this only one of those fights makes any sense. Zingano is a wildly aggressive, go anywhere finisher with power that she carries all through the fight. That means that she can put Ladd in real danger out at range, while being dynamic enough on the ground to potentially give Ladd some pause. Win that fight, and Ladd’s well on her way to title contention and proving that she can compete with the more physically gifted athletes in her division. That’s something that a fight against Correia just wouldn’t do. A fight with Julianna Pena would also work, if Pena is looking at returning to the cage any time in the near future. Until that happens though, Ladd vs. Zingano is the fight to book.
OTHER BOUTS: St. Preux vs. Krylov 2, Volkov vs. Ngannou/Blaydes loser, Herrig vs. Markos, S. Pettis vs. Pantoja, Luque vs. Oliveira, Turner vs. Vendramini, Evinger vs. Reneau, Holtzman vs. Gillespie, Patrick vs. Pichel, Kunitskaya vs. Aldana, Lansberg vs. Correia, Lentz vs. Khabilov, Martin vs. Moraes, LaFlare vs. W. Alves