UFC 232 needed to deliver. One of MMA’s biggest stars returning under questionable circumstances, a last minute venue change, and a general feeling of frustration from fans and fighters during event week meant that what appeared to be a great card paper needed to, in fact, be great.
Jon Jones asserted himself once again as the king of the light heavyweight division, looking like he’d never left at all, in a three round destruction of Alexander Gustafsson. Amanda Nunes blasted Cris Cyborg in under a minute to capture the featherweight crown — beating perhaps the most dominant fighter in woman’s MMA history in the process. Out of thirteen fights, ten ended inside the distance.
So who’s next for Jon Jones? What is the UFC going to do with the women’s featherweight division? And is Alexander Volkanovski at the head of the line for Max Holloway?
To answer all these questions, and more, I’ll be using the classic Silva/Shelby model of years past. That means pitting winners against winners, losers against losers, and similarly tenured talent against one another. If you’d like to take your own shot at some MMA matchmaking glory, leave a comment below starting with, “As fighters, we’re basically pit bulls. We’ll pull on the leash until we choke ourselves.” I’ll pick one winner from the responses to join me next time.*
This week there was apparently a miscommunication, so I’m flying solo on my fight picks.
There are two different forces at work for Jon Jones’ potential next fight. On the one hand, his multiple recent suspensions have allowed for a new crop of possible top contenders to rise up the ranks a bit. Anthony Smith, Jan Blachowicz, Thiago Santos, and perhaps soon Dominick Reyes are all within sniffing distance of a title shot. On the other hand, none of those feel at all like competitive fights for Jones right now. The only place that holds the allure of a true contest for Jones – outside of passing drug tests – is heavyweight. There’s a rematch with Daniel Cormier there (assuming Cormier can’t be lured down to 205 again), and fights with the top of the heavyweight class would almost all be fascinating. What can Jones do against Stipe? What about Francis Ngannou? I’d watch Jones take on JDS. In the end, however, as much as I’d like to see Jones vs. Miocic, I think ‘Bones’ wants to stay at 205 and I don’t think Cormier wants to fight him. That probably means we see Jon Jones vs. Anthony Smith sometime this summer.
While Gustafsson is now saddled with the knowledge that he’s probably not getting another shot at the belt while Jones is king, he can also live in hope — full in the knowledge that Jones’ habit for self destruction could leave the title picture wide open at any point in the near future. In the meantime, he’ll have to dive back into the pile of hopeful contenders to see where he can play spoiler. That could mean a fight against Corey Anderson, who also won on this card. But, I’d rather see him take on the winner of Volkan Oezdemir vs. Dominick Reyes, especially if that winner is Oezdemir. The fact that Gus has also never fought OSP makes that a fine fight for right now if the ‘Mauler’ wants to get back in the cage in a hurry. But, I’ll say Gus vs. the Oezdemir/Reyes winner as a first option.
Now the ‘Lioness’ has two challenger-bereft divisions to lord over. She could stay at featherweight and wait for another bantamweight to climb up and take her on again, and Cyborg is already calling for a possible rematch. But, the UFC doesn’t seem to set on playing Nunes/Cyborg back, and there’s no real future at 145 even if it is a healthier weight for the champ. She’s got to drop back down and either get the winner of Holm vs. Ladd or Ketlen Vieira. Not great fights, but clearly the Holm/Ladd winner would have the most momentum. Nunes vs. Holm/Ladd winner is just about the only fight that makes any real sense.
Cyborg has one fight left on her contract. So the UFC featherweight division won’t quite be shuttered just yet. But, something tells me that fight won’t be a rematch against Nunes. The UFC is probably happier just to send ‘Lioness’ back to 135 and close the doors on their short-lived women’s featherweight experiment. The best way to do that is likely a fight against Megan Anderson, even though Anderson is unquestionably best served by rematching Cat Zingano. It’s either that or see if they can pay GDR enough to move back up... and that seems unlikely. Cris Cyborg vs. Megan Anderson is probably the next bout for the former champion.
Not sure that beating Condit immediately inserts Chiesa into the welterweight rankings, but his history of strong performances at 155 mean that he’s probably not far off a spot. He called out Neil Magny which is a... fine fight, I guess. But it’s hard to get excited about that after watching Magny get brutalized by Santiago Ponzinibbio. Also it’s hard to get excited about Magny fights in general. A much better and more fun option would be a battle against Alex Oliveira, once Oliveira is healed up from his grenade shrapnel wounds. Fights against Tim Means, Court McGee, James Krause, Sergio Moraes, Li Jingliang or Tony Martin would all also be rock solid if the UFC isn’t interested in giving him a ranked opponent. In fact, I’d be very interested in seeing Michael Chiesa against Tony Martin, let’s book that.
He may not have become a more exciting fighter, but Anderson has definitely improved over the last couple years. He’s more defensively aware (even if he’s still eating shots), more calm, and better able to strike in combination. That said, his history of ugly losses shouldn’t fast track him to a title shot, even off a couple really big wins. If Dominick Reyes beats Volkan Oezdemir, Reyes vs. Anderson would be a solid fight. Or if Thiago Santos beats Jan Blachowicz, I’d be 100% down to see that. I guess since he already has a win over Jan, then either winner of Blachowicz/Santos would work fine. Corey Anderson vs. the Santos/Blachowicz winner is probably the best Anderson can do toward contender status.
So much of what happens to Volkanovski next depends on what Max Holloway does. If Holloway heads to lightweight, Volkanovski could end up in contender purgatory. If Holloway stays around, my guess is that Edgar is next up for the title. But that’s not exactly set in stone. Jose Aldo is already booked – against Renato Moicano – and Jeremy Stephens is fighting Zabit Magomedsharipov. Volkanovski against the winner of either of those fights would be totally fine. And there’s always Brian Ortega out there as a super dangerous wild card. Of all these, the winner of Stephens vs. Zabit somehow feels the most likely. If Moicano beats Aldo he seems like the most likely top contender, and if Aldo wins, I don’t think he’d be all that into fighting Volkanovski. And running the Aussie through Ortega just seems like a mistake. Volkanovski vs. the Stephens/Zabit winner feels like the right fight.
It may not be a big name, but that’s the kind of win that pushes Yan beyond just another fun prospect and up to the front of ‘guys ready for a big step up.’ He called out John Lineker, but Lineker is going to be busy with Cory Sandhagen later this month. And I’d rather see Yan build a little more to that fight. Bouts against Cody Stamann, Rob Font, and Alejandro Perez would all be very reasonable. If the UFC really wants to put him into a war, Pedro Munhoz is out there and waiting to throw down with anyone. For now, put Yan in against Rob Font. He wins that fight, bigger, tougher, top contender bouts can be next. Petr Yan vs. Rob Font to see if Yan can keep his momentum going.
Is Hall staying at lightweight? Was this just a one-off before returning to 145 lbs? Either way he’s going to be a funky puzzle for anyone that steps in the cage with him. Not a dangerous striker in any real way, but persistent, defensive, and a violently efficient grappler. If Hall remains at 155 lbs, then he needs to fight Davi Ramos. I don’t care that Ramos is a fire hydrant. I need to see him in there with the ADCC champ. If Hall goes back down to featherweight, then put him in there with Makwan Amirkhani. That seems like it would be a fun, dangerous, and dynamic battle that Hall could win, but will present a lot of athletic challenges. Hall vs. Ramos is my first option, but Amirkhani is a strong second.
OTHER BOUTS: Condit vs. Saunders, Latifi vs. Cirkunov, Harris vs. Tuivasa, Arlovski vs. Ivanov, Zingano vs. Evinger, Silva de Andrade vs. Kyung Ho, Wood vs. Simon, Ewell vs. Jin Soo, Hall vs. Cummings, Lewis vs. Marquez, Millender vs. Mein, Bahadurzada vs. Garcia, Jackson vs. Pingyuan, Kelleher vs. Johns
*I check back in on the comment section on Tuesday to see if you’ve won.