Mid-Week Matchmaker - UFC 270
Taking a look at potential future match-up's for the stars of UFC 270
After an eventful fight week, and an equally eventful few days in the media since then, is there a better time to sit down and take a look at what potential match-ups lay in waiting for some of the winners, and losers of UFC 270? Well yes, probably… But it’s good content and I’ve got an opinion on the matter, so here we go anyway.
There’s some obvious obstacles to overcome for certain fighters (as will be discussed below), and it’s definitely not the easiest situation to try and read; however I’ve done my level best to present plausible options for all of the main card fighters, as well as some of the stars that stood out on the preliminary cards - no crystal ball, just logic… and some hopes and dreams.
Francis Ngannou vs. Cyril Gane
Starting off with what is one of the hardest situations to predict in the sport right now - what will happen with Francis Ngannou?
Over the weekend Francis proved (in a way not many people expected) that he is unquestionably the king of the modern heavyweight division. Showcasing his grappling skill set, and in spite of a knee injury that saw his MCL, ACL and who knows what else damaged, Francis overcame adversity on the feet in the early rounds against Cyril Gane, to dominate on the ground in the final three and earn a unanimous decision win.
Heading into that fight, Francis’ future in the promotion was uncertain (due to his current contract dispute) and seemingly a lot of fans were hoping for some clarity coming out the other side… Unfortunately, we saw no such luck; in fact the situation looks worse now than it did previously.
Francis claims to be willing to sit out his year long contract should the UFC not come to the table in regards to his wishes to box, which (depending on how they handle that situation) would hold up the heavyweight division entirely. Dana White not being present in the octagon to present Francis with his belt, and not attending the post-fight press conference after the event has only added fuel to the speculative fire.
At the moment, despite Francis’ wishes for the UFC to be involved in his boxing pursuit, it looks as if Dana is entirely uninterested in the proposal - which likely means Francis leaves the promotion. If this is the case, we’ll more than likely see Francis compete in the boxing ring against current heavyweight kingpin Tyson Fury, as this is what both Francis and Tyson have been campaigning for.
If, somehow, the UFC and Francis come to an agreement, I believe we see Francis compete against either Jon Jones, or failing that Stipe Miocic (again) as a stipulation before he can cross over to boxing; This is all assuming Francis’ knee doesn’t need surgery, which it likely does (UPDATE: It does…). My prediction is we see Francis out of action for a year, and make a 2023 return in the boxing ring.
As for Cyril Gane, he was clearly rushed to this title fight, just as Francis was to his first. A drop down in the rankings to face the winner of Alexander Volkov vs. Tom Aspinall would make sense, or if he’s hoping to have a quick turn-around, Curtis Blaydes looks free - maybe not the best stylistic match-up considering the way in which Gane lost this past weekend, but an opportunity for him to remind people it’s not quite as easy to control him as Francis made it look.
My prediction for the future of the heavyweight division - I believe the UFC will eventually make an interim championship bout between the winners of Jon Jones vs. Stipe Miocic and Derrick Lewis vs. Tai Tuivasa, after Francis sits on ice not being able to get a deal done.
Brandon Moreno vs. Deiveson Figueiredo
Onto another tough situation to read - the future of the UFC Flyweight championship.
If it were up to me, I’d have rebooked these two warriors for an historical fourth fight the instant the horn sounded in the fifth round. In a hotly contested trilogy bout, Deiveson Figueiredo reclaimed UFC gold after going to war with fierce rival Brandon Moreno, in a fight that ended up being settled on the judges scorecards.
The reality of the situation is that there are a few challengers near ready for a title shot of their own. The 14-0-1 Russian national Askar Askarov (#2) is booked for what is surely the new #1 contender bout against New Zealand’s Kai Kara France (#6) in March. Meanwhile Alexandre Pantoja (#3) is in a bit of an awkward spot, having lost within the last two years to both Deivison Figueiredo and Askar Askarov respectively. Despite these losses to elite competition, Pantoja is currently riding a two fight win streak into 2022, and probably deserves to fight up the ladder at this point.
My prediction is that we’ll see Figgy booked to defend his belt against the winner of Askarov vs. Kara-France, meaning we’ll likely see Brandon Moreno stake his claim to the following title shot against Alexandre Pantoja mid way through this year.
Michel Pereira vs. Andre Fialho
After an explosive performance from both gentlemen, in a fight that had the Anaheim crowd roaring, Michel Pereira defeated the promotional newcomer Andre Fialho via 29-28 across all three judges’ scorecards.
It’s honestly time to see Pereira face a ranked opponent at welterweight, after a consistent two year run against top unranked prospects, I don’t think he can be denied. Currently sitting at #14 is Santiago Ponzinibbio, and at #13 is Li Jingliang - with both fighters coming off of losses and probably fighting down the ladder next, I’d say it’s only time before we see a one of them booked.
Andre Fialho, though exciting and powerful, needs some more time fighting among the masses of the unranked before making any sort of run to the top of the division. two fighters who fought and lost on the same card could prove interesting matchups, Trevin Giles (14-4) and fellow newcomer and powerhouse Pete Rodriguez (4-1).
Said Nurmagomedov vs. Cody Stamann
in what was a shocking first round finish, Said Nurmagomedov (no relation) submitted the always tough Cody Stamann in just fourty-one seconds.
Said is probably ready to faced ranked opposition, but in saying that it wouldn’t be surprising to see the UFC throw an unranked prospect his way after spending a year out previous to this fight. Victor Henry (22-5), who won his UFC 270 bout against Raoni Barcelos (the only loss on Nurmagomedov’s resume in recent years), would be a good, experienced candidate if the matchmakers were to go the unranked route. Otherwise there are some of the old guard still floating around the top fifteen, with Raphael Assunção (who is now 39) on the edge of the rankings, and Frankie Edgar at #11 after back to back knock out losses - not that I particularly want to see either man fighting young prospects anymore to be honest...
Cody Stamann is in a bit of a rough spot, having now lost three in a row (to top competition mind you). I wouldn’t mind seeing Cody taking on some less hyped opponents to try and regain some momentum - Raoni Barcelos (16-3), who lost to Victor Henry would be fun, as would someone like Casey Kenney (16-4) or Davey Grant (11-6).
Michael Morales vs. Trevin Giles
To open the main card we were treated to a first round knockout courtesy of Dana White’s Contender Series Alum, the debuting Ecuadorian Michael Morales.
Morales made a splash in the division, but at only twenty-two years old, he could use some more experience under his belt before really starting to climb the ladder. Jack Della Maddalena (11-2), who also won his UFC debut at 270, is a fight that piques my interest, but perhaps one that might be better saved for the future. A test against a grappling specialist like Benoit Saint Denis (8-1) is also an interesting option, to better gauge the level of his ability.
Trevin Giles, on the other hand, is now sitting on back to back losses in the last six months. As discussed above, Andre Fialho (14-4) would be a fun fight - though I do also like the matchup between the well-rounded, twenty-nine year old German Niklas Stoltze (12-5), who’s also had a rough go against good opposition in his last two bouts (Emeev, Gooden).
Both Victor and Raoni left it all in the cage in Anaheim to round out the Prelims. At Victor’s age, and with his experience, I think it’s fair to see him thrown in the mix at bantamweight fairly quickly - he said himself that he knows he has a short shelf life left. With that in mind, someone like Ricky Simon’ (#13) seems like a likely candidate, but if he were to fight outside of the top fifteen again, I’d personally like to see him against Adrian Yanez (15-3).
Jack Della Maddalena
as an Australian I may be biased, but Jack’s debut was the most impressive of the night, putting on an absolute clinic against powerhouse Pete Rodriguez. Jack’s next opponent will depend on how fast he, and the UFC, want to progress. I’d personally love to see him against an established name like the fan favorite Daniel ‘D-rod’ Rodriguez (16-2), strictly because is would be absolute fireworks… But more realistically, perhaps Dwight Grant (11-4) who is a fellow DWCS alum (from the 2018 season), that recently came up short against the veteran Francisco Trinaldo.
Perhaps one of the most viral moments of UFC 270 came from the second fight on the early prelims after Vanessa Demopoulos finished her opponent via armbar in the first round, then jumped into Joe Rogan’s arms during her post-fight interview. Moving forward I like Mallory Martin (7-5) as a potential opponent, she’s well rounded enough to test Vanessa’s potential; or possibly Cheyanne Vlismas if the matchmakers want to try and push her a bit faster up the strawweight division.