What a god damn war that saved UFC 155 last night, eh? A fairly lackluster card somehow ended up being saved by two absolute wars up top. Junior Dos Santos showed the heart of a champion, Cain Velasquez showed the killer we thought was in him and Jim Miller vs. Joe Lauzon was a bloody brawl that left Joe Lauzon 4 pints short or so. As we bask in the glow of easily the greatest UFC heavyweight title fight ever it’s time to do the unenviable and plot out the course of the most intriguing winners and losers from last night’s card. And with the sheer volume of interesting fighters on the card, and the results, I’ve opted to go over the five fighter limit.
Cain Velasquez vs. Alistair Overeem – This is provided Ubereem gets past Bigfoot Silva, of course, but the UFC heavyweight trajectory seems to be set. Cain isn’t fighting his friend Daniel Cormier, who looks to see if he won’t die if he cuts to 205, thus Overeem is the best candidate. The winner will take on Fabricio Werdum (if he beats Big Nog this summer).
Jim Miller vs. Eddie Alvarez – Miller’s an interesting case in that he’s not an elite fighter but he’s just a step below. He has four losses to the last four guys to hold or fight for the UFC lightweight title (Gray Maynard, Nate Diaz, Ben Henderson, Frankie Edgar) and has beaten everyone else he’s faced in his career. If there was a case for him being the definitive fifth best lightweight in the world it’s Jim Miller; he’s the gatekeeper to the title. Alvarez is apparently en route to the UFC and Miller’s the ultimate best test for his first fight. Alvarez is never dull and neither is Miller. Gilbert Melendez, if he takes a first fight instead of moving straight towards a title fight, would make sense here as well.
Yushin Okami vs. Hector Lombard – Lombard is probably a massive KO away from getting his shot at Anderson Silva. Eventually Lombard has to face someone who’s an elite fighter and win; Okami fits the bill. Okami is going to need to put together a Sonnen-like streak of wins over a murderer’s row to get another crack at Anderson. He’s too good to fight guys like Buddy Roberts en masse and we tend to forget that he was tooling Tim Boetsch before his big epic comeback. Chris Weidman would be another good pick here as well.
Jamie Varner vs. the winner of Cerrone vs. Pettis – Ladies and gentlemen, your comeback fighter of the year Jamie Varner! What a year for him, too, as he went from being a guy on the regional circuit with something of a name and not looking like the fighter of old to potentially a couple fights away from the UFC title. He was brought in on short notice to take on the best prospect in the division in Edson Barboza and thumped him, following it with an epic fight against Lauzon on Fox. Now he took apart Melvin Guillard and should get another Top 10 fighter; assuming Benson Henderson takes on Gilbert Melendez next the winner of Cerrone vs. Pettis for a title shot could work. A fight with Nate Diaz would be fun, as well, and don’t count out someone like Ross Pearson as well. Varner is a fresh matchup for anyone in the Top 15 right now so he’s going to get someone interesting.
John Moraga vs. the winner of Ian McCall vs. Joseph Benavidez – Moraga has looked great so far but needs a win against one of the elite fighters in the division. John Lineker or Louis Gaudinot would be another pick as well; Moraga’s next fight needs to be a title eliminator because so far he’s done enough to get into that spot. McCall and Benavidez will need another win after their fight to get the winner of Dodson/Johnson in Chicago, thus an eliminator in the spring makes sense.
Todd Duffee vs. the winner of Mike Russow vs. Shawn Jordan – Duffee looked fantastic but he’s had a stretch where he didn’t have a fight for almost two years. The winner of that fight makes sense as the Russow rematch is intriguing and Jordan’s in a similar stretch where he’s a prospect on the rise needing to rebuild. Duffee’s next opponent isn’t going to be anyone with a significant name and will be in a similar spot as it was before. Duffee is someone the UFC clearly wants in the fold based on his look and the fact that he winds up knocking guys out regularly BUT he needs to be brought along slowly. The winner of Schaub vs. Johnson could be in this slot as well depending on whether or not the UFC wants to rocket him up the card quicker.
Derek Brunson vs. Costa Philippou – Brunson and Philippou may have won last night but neither was all that impressive. Brunson beat a shopworn Leben on a week’s notice and would’ve thrashed him if he had a full training camp. Philippou was getting bested by Boetsch until Boetsch’s body just broke on him. He may get the win but he didn’t look like a Top 10 middleweight, not by any reasonable measure. When both were fresh in the first Boetsch owned him. Philippou looked solid but he still has a ways to go before he could handle anyone above Boetsch right now. Brunson on a full camp could be an absolute killer in the division as he’s improved significantly since his last Strikeforce fight. He just looked like all he did to prepare for this fight was cut weight.
Eddie Wineland vs. Raphael Assuncao – Both guys looked great in their last outings and at this point both should be a fight or so away from a title shot against the winner of Barao/MacDonald. If Ivan Menjivar didn’t have Urijah Faber already lined up that would‘ve been the other fight to make at this point as well.
Junior Dos Santos vs. Cheick Kongo – Here’s the problem with JDS. He’s the clear #2 heavyweight in the world. Odds are he’s going to have some sort of epic trilogy, or even more, with Cain Velasquez. They’re the two best heavyweights of their era and will wind up as the two best of all time. But you can’t throw them together again soon, especially after a fight like the one they just had. Junior needs a couple of fights before he should challenge again; you don’t take that sort of shellacking and get a quick rematch. It’s not like this fight was close; Cain destroyed him and Junior might be the only fighter in the world who wouldn’t have been defeated by a shellacking that heavy. So what to do with him? You need to build him back up with a couple of big wins, let him work on his wrestling and such, so that way a trilogy fight will make better sense. JDS is going to get another crack at the title; there are a couple of contenders who will have earned shots by then and it’s time for Junior to earn his again. He gets two to three fights away from Cain; at this point he needs to be away from him for a while. After a one sided beating he needs to get rebuilt; after a couple of big knockouts the fight will be bigger than after one win. Kongo is still a name opponent, coming off a loss and is a tough but winnable fight for JDS.
Chris Leben vs. Tom Lawlor – After a year layoff I was expecting a lot out of Chris Leben, or even something close to what he was. He may have not been finished but he looked shop-worn, at best, against a fighter he would’ve blown out of the water two years ago. It could’ve been a lot of things but Leben’s run out of excuses after his past couple fights; he can’t blame it on poor diets or bad weight cuts anymore. He looked like a fighter just hanging on there, his financial woes coming to light making it all the more apparent that he’s fighting for the money instead of fighting because he can still be elite. He looked awful and fought awful as well. Even that big left just looked like it had nothing on it. So what to do with him? This is a sport where the young eat the old and as such now Leben’s turn to be thrown to the wolves, it seems. Lawlor would make it a third wrestler in a row for him, of course, but if Leben has anything left in him he’ll show it against someone like Lawlor.
Melvin Guillard vs. Marcus LeVesseur – When it comes down to it Melvin Guillard might be the biggest case of wasted potential in recent MMA. He should be the lightweight champion with that sheer level of athleticism, explosiveness and power in his hands. Unfortunately he just hasn’t put it together yet and I’m not sure if he ever will. Guillard has so much talent and could be so good that it’s almost hard to see him just not fight up to it; when he’s on he’s the most dangerous man in the division. We’ve been waiting for “The Young Assassin” to have that edge and put it together. He just hasn’t and I’m not sure if he will. LeVesseur is a big step down in competition but at this point Guillard has failed every time he goes up into the deep waters of the division. It’s time for him to spend some time underneath it to get that edge back, if he can at this point.
Tim Boetsch vs. Rousimar Palhares – Both guys are hurt right now, of course, and will need to spend some time on the mend after their fights. Both were Top 10 guys who just faltered, as well. Makes sense on that level. Jarad Hamman could be another pick in this slot as well; Boetsch looked like an elite middleweight up until he broke his hand and had an eye he could barely see out of. And even then he didn’t look that bad. My guess is he either gets someone on the way out of the UFC or someone tough but winnable.
Joe Lauzon vs. Nate Diaz – Out of all the guys from TUF 5 that have been in the UFC since then this is the one matchup that hasn’t happened for god knows why. I wanted to see it on the show and it didn’t happen and all these years later they haven’t fought. Lauzon looked like a Top 10 lightweight and Diaz is arguably the #3 in the world. If Donald Cerrone loses to Anthony Pettis in Chicago that’d be a fun matchup as well; Lauzon is going to get another high profile fight against someone in the division because he gave Jim Miller all he had and nearly stole the fight with that flurry at the end of the third.
Alan Belcher vs. Mark Munoz – For all his barking about how he felt he was the best middleweight in the world Alan Belcher just ran into one of the handful of elite fighters in the division. Time for him to take a step back, of course, but he’s still a guy who could be in the title picture sooner than later. Munoz makes a lot of sense and would be a fun matchup; the loser of Belfort vs. Bisping could be another potential as well.
Brad Pickett vs. the loser of Menjivar vs. Faber – Either fighter is a fresh matchup and with the UFC dedicated to going back to the UK more often than they have than Pickett on a card over there makes sense. Pickett is still in the title mix at this point, despite the loss, as he didn’t lose poorly enough to set him back considerably. He just needs a win or two to get back into the hunt and the loser of Menjivar/Faber will be in a similar spot.
Michael Johnson vs. the loser of Jacob Volkmann vs. Bobby Green – Johnson’s in a good spot despite the loss. Jury was a first rate prospect and showed exactly why; he’s finally back to the form he had before he tore up his ACL. No shame in losing to him as Johnson is still a guy with long term upside for the UFC. He just had a setback, like many fighters have at this stage in their career. He’s still young and is probably a couple years away from threatening the top five. He just needs time and the loser of Volkmann/Green will be in a similar spot on the LW hierarchy.