It wasn’t a stacked card on Fox Saturday night but it delivered a night of good fights for the most part. When “Mighty Mouse” gets a finish, especially a baller-style at the end of a title fight he’s dominating, it can’t be that bad of a card. Now it’s time to play Joe Silva and see where the most intriguing winners (and losers) from this card go.
Rory MacDonald vs. the winner of Carlos Condit vs. Martin Kampmann – Has there any fighter who’s gotten a dominate win over another elite fighter and seems to have taken as much of a step back as Rory did? He’s potentially the next great welterweight fighter and yet won tepidly over Ellenberger, who played punching bag more often than not for Rory. He didn’t look like he was ready for us to consider elite and the UFC’s own ranking system didn’t feel correct tonight; Robbie Lawler looked like the #3 fighter in the world and Rory the ninth, not the other way around. He won’t get GSP next, or at least offered that fight, and I think he needs another win (or two) before he’s considered in that category one more time. Bad performances, even winning ones, can affect a career significantly and this might do so. Rory also wants Condit badly and the winner of Condit/Kampmann will be elite but not in the title hunt. Robbie Lawler could be in this spot, as well; the UFC’s viewpoint of Rory being a title contender is going to be established with whomever he gets next.
Demetrious Johnson vs. the winner of Jussier Formiga vs. Joseph Benavidez – Johnson keeps beating the elite of the division and one imagines that the winner of Formiga/Benavidez gets this bout. Benavidez is a compelling rematch, as many scored their first fight for him, and Formiga would be a fun style matchup. The winner of Gaudinot/Elliott at UFC 164 might be in the mix as well. When you look at the three best contenders in the division (Benavidez, Johnson, McCall) you have to note that Johnson has wins over them all. Therefore you have some flexibility; you can play the “most exciting win(s)” card with Johnson because so far he keeps getting wins over the best. Flyweight is also still being established, as well, so getting a champion with a substantial winning streak isn’t a bad thing in my mind. Johnson may not be a draw yet but with him continuing to pile up wins it makes Joe Silva’s job oddly easier in many ways; when you’re not counted for massive ratings or buy-rates it means you can go for a great fight first and justify it with recent wins instead of adhering to the rankings.
Jorge Masvidal vs. Josh Thomson – Masvidal was ranked in the Top 10 by a handful of people for a while, mainly before he lost to Gilbert Melendez, and I don’t think he’s far off from being there. Thomson wants someone elite, TJ Grant being the object of his call out, but I don’t think he gets that fight. Masvidal/Thomson would be a barnburner and the type of fight that puts the winner in title contention sooner than later. I could see Edson Barboza in this slot and potentially the winner of Jamie Varner/Gleison Tibau being Masvidal’s next opponent as well. Masvidal has tons of potential and is never dull, of course, but I’m not sure if he has that next gear to become a title challenger.
Robbie Lawler vs. Demian Maia – Maia is rumored to be facing Jake Shields next, with nothing confirmed as of yet, but I like Lawler for him next. Lawler and Maia are both in the same spot where a big win, especially a finish, could give them the next title shot in light of Rory MacDonald’s underwhelming performance. I could see Rory MacDonald being next, as well, but the Maia matchup makes sense too. If Lawler keeps finishing guys then he’s perhaps as little as one win away from the winner of GSP/Hendricks. GSP is clearing out his division for a third time if he beats Hendricks; Lawler bricks out another dude and he’s probably going to be up next. It’d make for a great story, too, considering his history.
Melvin Guillard vs. the winner of Ramsey Nijem vs. James Vick – Melvin looked great last night and looks to be getting back in the groove that left many to think of him as being a potential title holder. He just needs to be built back up, slowly but surely, as he has a lot of bad wins against top guys in recent memory. Guillard isn’t going to be shuffled back into the Top 25 mix anytime soon, thus he’ll most likely get prospects and guys without histories in the UFC. When you go 2-4 in your last six, with two losses separating each win (and getting finished three times), you need to start on another win streak against lesser guys again to earn that main card slot. Takanori Gomi could be in this slot, too, as could Spencer Fisher.
John Moraga vs. John Dodson – Dodson doesn’t have a fight lined up and Moraga/Dodson could become an epic flyweight battle. Both guys are finishers with big power, especially in the division, and with the newness of it the winner could be back in the title mix sooner than later with a big win. I could see Moraga against the loser of McCall/Santos as well. Moraga is going to be in the title hunt sooner than later, I think, and in defeat showed some big heart. He could’ve been stopped early and he fought back, landing a beautiful combination that staggered Johnson in the fourth, and his deficiencies in the cage aren’t intangibles. I think a couple of wins, and a couple good camps, and he gives Johnson a closer fight in the rematch.
Jake Ellenberger vs. the loser of Condit/Kampmann – Ellenberger just didn’t fight his fight … or any fight, really. He looked awful, and definitely not elite, but I think that might have been a style matchup more than anything else. MacDonald was a bad style matchup for him and he just froze out there. Ellenberger is stuck either trying to go for broke early or be excessively patient mentally, it seems, because of his gas issue in the past. It’s something he needs to fix or he could wind up being stuck where he is now; always just good enough to be in the mix but not good enough to be in the cage for a title belt.
Mac Danzig vs. the loser of Nijem/Vick – Danzig has had a pretty substantial career in the UFC but he’s never been anything more than just a guy who can win enough to stay there but not advance beyond a fringe Top 25 fighter. He’s maximized everything he’s had but he just isn’t above the territory of “borderline UFC caliber fighter,” even with the devaluation of that title in recent memory. But he’s never dull, even trading wins and losses, which is how he’s managed to stick around much longer than you’d think he would based off his ceiling not being all that high. He was the first TUF winner who really didn’t look like he could be a future world champion, just the best of a show filled with guys who would get one chance in the UFC at best, and he’s managed to stick around far longer than most thought.
It’s a shame because he’s a first rate personality and one of the few guys who is absolutely fascinating to listen to. He’s never put more than two wins together in a streak and has essentially just traded wins and losses under Zuffa employ. I wouldn’t be shocked if he got cut with the loss to Guillard, of course, but I think he’s exciting enough to stick around for one more fight. Danzig is never dull in the cage but he’s not Joe Lauzon, either. The loser of Nijem/Vick will be in the same spot, fighting for their job, and those types of fights can be fun undercard matchups. I could see the loser of Lauzon/Michael Johnson in this slot as well.
Michael Chiesa vs. the loser of Mike Ricci vs. Myles Jury – Chiesa has grown substantially as a fighter and he looked great in the first round against Masvidal. His ceiling is starting to come into focus but the one downside is that I’m not sure he was ready to take on someone of Masvidal’s caliber at this point in his career. The loser of Ricci/Jury will be in a similar spot and that makes for a fun fight, usually. Chiesa could be a fringe Top 10 but he’s still probably four-six fights away from that at best.
Julie Kedzie vs. the loser of Sara Kaufman/Sara McMann – Kedzie fought well but there aren’t that many women in the UFC right now. The loser of this matchup makes sense, I suppose.