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What’s Next? Thoughts and Matchups After UFC 249

New, bloodsoaked terrain opens after uncertainty inside and outside of the Octagon.

We knew no obstacles would keep Dana and the madmen running this circus from figuring something out. The UFC managed, somehow, to get the show back up and running, but lost two fights in the ensuing chaos. Jacare Souza tested positive for the COVID virus, leaving his fight with Uriah Hall dead in the water. But there was another death; a more intangible, more mystic fight that became more and more doomed as the night charged on. Tony/Khabib has found a way to cancel itself for many, many years now, and it should come as no surprise to any of us that a combination of a global superflu and a bloodsoaked maniac like Justin Gaethje rode into town and killed it once again. In that dark arena the death knell of our lightweight title superfight rang through the ears of essential personnel and a jacketed (?) Joe Rogan as Justin Gaethje hammered the nails in the coffin of Tony/Khabib for five bloody rounds, out-striking and out-enduring the boogyman himself with terrifying leg kicks and clean, hard hands. This aside, and a large aside at that, the UFC 249 card was pretty stellar. The fighters, no stranger to putting their health and safety on the line, showed up and fought in relative silence. Some trained in their garages, some trained in private gyms with limited coaching, making the sacred pilgrimage to Jacksonville, Florida for a night of business. It was an impressive undertaking, and a massive reshuffling of the cards for the sport’s moat exciting divisions.

Justin Gaethje

Nothing can be added to this performance that hasn’t been expounded by all of MMA media. It was flawless. Give me Khabib and Gaethje in September.

Tony Ferguson

And with that, the fabled 12-fight win streak comes to an end. It was difficult watching Tony get fairly dismantled, but more difficult knowing the potential for Khabib/Tony is now nearly extinct. But the fight game never rests. Tony should take a little time to recover, but stay active, headlining a Fight Night card against Dustin Poirier would be a great fight for both veterans.

Henry Cejudo

I’m not completely sold on this retirement. A competitor like Cejudo, simultaneously hitting his prime AND defeating Annick’s “consensus greatest bantamweight of all time”, seems to be in no position of slowing down. However, Cejudo’s post-fight argument makes sense, given his age, accomplishments and desire other things in life. A part of me believes he is angling for a better contract, but if this is the last we see of Triple C, it will be the end of a remarkable career in combat sports. It will be difficult to find his golden likeness again.

Dominick Cruz

Rough break for the former champion, coming back after 3 and a half years. Of course, this fight should have been Petr Yan’s, but I didn’t hate the matchup when it was announced. It was a good test for both men, and while some people disagree with the stoppage (Cruz the most adamant), I am not one of those people. Henry landed a perfect, flush knee, and about a dozen unanswered shots. Legacy win for Cejudo, disappointing return for Cruz. What can you do. With Henry’s apparent retirement and the division brimming with contenders at the top, where does Cruz fit into all of this? If he is serious about his return, and this wasn’t a one-off shot at gold, a fight against a top-10 contender would be appropriate, perhaps another legacy fight against Jose Aldo. However, selfishly, I want to see Cruz back in form against the hardly-anticipated bantamweight debut of Frankie Edgar. A fight between two future hall of famers would be an excellent addition to an upcoming PPV card.

There is no mystery with this man. Francis Ngannou fights for either the interim heavyweight title next against Daniel Cormier, or waits nearly a year for his shot. Unless he decides the drama at heavyweight is unreasonable and signs with another promotion, which is unlikely. He mentioned during his post-fight interview, “I don’t know where I fit in here”, and that can be incredibly frustrating.

Nothing comes of life without risks, and Jairinzho Rozenstruik took probably the biggest risk a human being can take in calling out The Predator. No shame in being KO’d by that man. None at all. Even with this loss, Bigi Boy is still one of the heavyweight elite, and a matchup with former champion Junior dos Santos would be an excellent measure of where JDS is at in his career, and a big name on the record of Rozenstruik.

Calvin Kattar continues to impress the hell out of me. I firmly believe he had Zabit Magomedsharipov dead to rights had their matchup last November gone five rounds, and while I would love to see that rematch, the UFC won’t let Kattar near their baby anytime soon. So, to please the gods of violence, let’s matchup Kattar with Josh Emmett. Both men are coming off impressive KOs, have a track record for doing so, and find themselves at the roadblock that so often presents itself at the top of divisions where top contenders won’t settle for anything but higher ranked guys. The winner if this one looks to be in the mix once Volkanovski, Holloway, Korean Zombie, Zabit, Yair and Ortega sort themselves out.

I don’t believe Jeremy Stephens has the milage left to be anything more than a featherweight gatekeeper, albeit a sturdy one. The fight game is cruel. Feed him to Sodiq Yuseff.

Greg Hardy looked like a normal, serviceable heavyweight, and that can be enough in a match where the other fighter hurt themselves early. I don’t know what condition Hardy would be in had De Castro been in prime form. Let’s throw him another bone with Marcin Tybura, who is at a rocky patch in his career and coming off a not-so-impressive decision win.

Yorgan de Castro // Tanner Boser

Anthony Pettis and Donald Cerrone

With men like these two, there is no denying their legacies. They’ve been there with the best in the world on mutable occasions. If either man retired, nobody would blame them at all. However, I don’t think that time has come for either man. Cowboy remains in the UFC for a few more rodeos, while Showtime signs with Bellator to join his brother before the year ends. Offering either of these men as Demian Maia’s retirement fight would be a fitting way forward.

What an incredible name in the resume of Aleksei Oleinik, out-striking and nearly out-grappling former world champion and BJJ guru Werdum. That’s two quick ones in a row for the Boa Constrictor, and I think he has the gas for one more run at the top, and it will be a weird one. Match the old man up with Derrick Lewis sometime in the next three months.

What a miserable performance from Fabricio Werdum, coming back after a long layoff and post-popping. He’s getting up there in years, and I don’t want to blame the substances, but the two men on Saturday were the same age and one of them looked much younger. If Werdum plans on sticking around, I think a lighter matchup could be good for his confidence, maybe against a struggling Ilir Latifi or a Contender Series alumni like Jeff Hughes.

I love the run Carla Esparza has put together over solid competition. Match her up with the winner of Claudia Gadelha and Angela Hill.

Michelle Waterson // Amanda Ribas

Vicente Luque // Neil Magny

Niko Price // Muslim Salikhov

Bryce Mitchell // Andre Fili

Charles Rosa // Makwan Amirkhani

Ryan Spann // Da Un Jung

Sam Alvey // Vinicius Moreira

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