As a proxy for UFC President Dana White Wednesday night in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Marshall Zelaznik spoiled some of my fun.
(Cue the faux indignity)
Thanks a lot, Marshall!
Manning the podium at the UFC Fight Night 28 post-fight press conference, Zelaznik relayed a message from the head honcho himself, stating that with his victory over Ryan Bader in the main event, Glover Teixeira will square off with the winner of the upcoming light heavyweight title fight between champion Jon Jones and challenger Alexander Gustafsson.
I can make the argument both for and against this pairing, but before I set about on that task, there is one thing to keep in mind: over the last three years, plenty of fighters that were immediately declared “next in line” after a strong performance have been pushed aside and slotted into different fights.
Do I think the UFC sees Teixeira as the best option to face the Jones-Gustafsson winner right now? Absolutely, and I understand their reasoning.
He’s won five consecutive bouts, finishing four of those contests, three in the opening round. Wednesday’s win over Bader was came in the main event, and no one in the division has been talked up as a potential title threat more than the heavy-handed Brazilian.
But here’s the thing: if Gustafsson upsets Jones in two weeks at the ACC, “Bones” is getting a rematch, no questions asked.
If that happens, I can’t see the UFC keeping Teixeira on the sidelines, not when he’s a burgeoning star, and not when the division is in a state of flux. And just like that, the “he’s next in line” is out the window.
Personally, Wednesday night’s win over Bader actually made me less convinced of Teixeira’s standing as a title contender. While a first-round TKO over a fringe Top 10 opponent pushing his overall winning streak to 20 looks great on paper, the performance itself was far shakier than the final outcome shows.
Bader clipped Teixeira on a couple different instances, and other opponents have done the same to the 33-year-old in the past. It’s great that he was disappointed with his performance and recognizes that he made some mistakes, but if that version of Teixeira were to step into the cage with Jones, he gets finished, and probably pretty quickly.
That’s why I think the UFC would be better off sliding Teixeira into another match-up before making him the challenger in a light heavyweight title fight, and they have a perfect dance partner for him at the ready in Phil Davis.
Both are ranked in the Top 5, but there are plenty of people that are not convinced of their current standing as title contenders. Match them up, and the winner gets the next title shot. Simple.
In the interim, you let Daniel Cormier come down to light heavyweight and square off with Jones right away. I know that goes against my “don’t let fighters cut in line” belief, but these two have been taking shots at each other for a while now; Cormier would be entering the division with an unbeaten record as a heavyweight (plus an Olympic wrestling pedigree), and that’s a much more bankable fight than Jones vs. Teixeira, especially coming off Wednesday’s event.
That’s how I’d line things up in the light heavyweight division. Is it going to happen? We’ll have to wait and see.
Here are the match-ups I’d make for the rest of Wednesday night’s main card winners.
Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza vs. Michael Bisping/Mark Munoz Winner
With Vitor Belfort set to face Dan Henderson in a fight that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, a match-up with the winner of the Bisping-Munoz contest scheduled for Oct. 26 in Manchester is the most logical next step for the surging Brazilian middleweight.
Whoever wins that fight is right there in the thick of the title chase just like Jacare and truth be told, the winner of this hypothetical pairing would likely become the top contender in the division. Souza looked tremendous on Wednesday night earning a first-round stoppage victory over Yushin Okami, but still needs one more big win to punch his ticket to a title shot.
This could be that victory.
Joseph Benavidez vs. Demetrious Johnson
The UFC announced that the next event on FOX is going to be held in Sacramento, California, which just so happens to be where Benavidez and the rest of Team Alpha Male are based. Given their track record of positioning championship fights atop these cards, and with Johnson lacking a new challenger for the flyweight crown, I think we’ll see this title rematch headlining that show.
I think it would be awesome for the UFC to do an All-TAM main card for this event.
You do this fight, Urijah Faber vs. Frankie Edgar, Chad Mendes vs. Cub Swanson, and TJ Dillashaw vs. Michael McDonald, provided he gets through Rafael Assuncao next month in Brazil. Add a lightweight bout for Danny Castillo to the prelims, and then sign Lance Palmer and get him in there too – you’d sell the place out in 12 seconds. Unless he makes the finals (which he very well could), TUF 18’s Chris Holdsworth could fight on this card too. You’re almost 75-percent of the way to a full card, just with guys from Sacramento.
Anyway, Benavidez has been lights out since losing a split decision to Johnson last September, and has done everything he you could ask of a fighter looking to earn a second shot at the championship strap in a little over a year.
Piotr Hallmann vs. Justin Salas
Hallmann battled back from the brink of being finished to submit Francisco Trinaldo on Wednesday and should get another lower-tier opponent next time out, probably on a fight card in the UK or Europe.
Salas is coming off a very good performance against Aaron Riley last time out, but like Hallmann, he’s still relatively new to the UFC. Neither guy needs to be rushed up the rankings, so pitting them against each other feels like an easy move.
Rafael Natal vs. Brad Tavares
A week ago, I said Tavares should face off with Daniel Sarafian, but the UFC has subsequently booked the Brazilian against the man he was supposed to face in the inaugural TUF: Brazil middleweight finale, Cezar “Mutante” Ferreira. That frees up Tavares to be redeployed in my hypothetical pairings against Natal.
Both fighters are on solid, but unspectacular winning streaks – Natal has won three straight, while Tavares has posted four consecutive victories – and are in need of a step up in competition. Two birds, one stone, one solid middleweight contest perfectly suited to be on the main card of another Wednesday night fight card.
Ali Bagautinov vs. As Yet Unsigned Flyweight
Bagautinov impressed on Wednesday in Brazil, stopping Marcos Vinicius with a straight right hand down the pipe in the third round, but with the division lacking real depth, I think his next fight will come against someone that isn’t even on the UFC roster yet.
There are 16 other fighters listed in the division on UFC.com, and half of those fighters are – in my opinion – too big of a step up in competition for Bagautinov at this point. You’re not throwing him in there with Ian McCall or Tim Elliott at this point. Those two actually want to fight each other.
Unless you’re going to match him up with someone coming off a loss (Chris Cariaso, Jose Maria), I just don’t see anyone on the roster that makes sense right now. Bring someone in from outside the organization and see what happens.