With Saturday’s UFC on FOX 6 fight card just barely in the books, the next order of business is to look into the future and try to decipher which fighters will next share the cage with the likes of TJ Grant, Anthony Pettis, Glover Teixeira, and flyweight champ Demetrious Johnson.
While there are certainly dream match-ups I would like to put together fresh of Saturday’s bouts — Henderson-Pettis 2 would be real slick right about now — keep in mind that the UFC has already announced events and pairings into April, and I don’t expect them to break any of those contracts to accommodate fighters from Saturday’s event.
Now that that is out of the way, here are the match-ups I think make the most sense for Saturday’s most noteworthy performers.
Demetrious Johnson vs. John Moraga
I honestly don’t believe it will happen, but it’s the fight to make at this time. We’ve already seen Johnson defeat both Joseph Benavidez and Ian McCall, so setting him up with the winner of that fight — which takes place next weekend at UFC 156 — would be putting together a rematch awful quickly in my estimation.
The rub is that Moraga’s two fights in the UFC have both been featured on Facebook, which makes him a complete unknown to casual audiences, and only slightly more recognizable to some hardcore fans. He’s earned stoppages in both appearances, hasn’t lost since dropping a decision to John Dodson in December 2010, and trains alongside lightweight champ Benson Henderson at The MMA Lab.
Having very little depth in the division is going to be a hurdle the UFC has to overcome, and giving an upstart like Moraga a chance while the rest of the division sort themselves out seems like the best course of action.
John Dodson vs. Chris Cariaso
Dodson held his own early against Johnson on Saturday night, but fading down the stretch to drop a decision sets his plans for world domination back a step or two. A pairing with Cariaso works right now as the California-based veteran is coming off a loss as well, and both men will need to string together two or three wins before they’re back in the title picture.
Glover Teixeira vs. Phil Davis
There is already a long line of contenders queued up at the top of the light-heavyweight division. At present, Davis stands behind the group that includes Dan Henderson, Lyoto Machida, and Alexander Gustafsson, even though he’s beaten the big Swede already.
As such, a pairing with Teixeira might be his best chance to break into the next tier and assert himself as a title contender. Teixeira looked very good in battering Quinton Jackson on Saturday night, and is a well-rounded threat who will test Davis on the feet. I would have much rather have seen Teixeira welcome Gegard Mousasi to the UFC, as both are in the same position in the rankings in my opinion, but the UFC went ahead and booked him opposite Gustafsson in April.
What comes next for “Rampage” is anyone’s guess; all we know for sure is that he’s done with the UFC… for now. Personally, I think he’ll land with Las Vegas-based World Series of Fighting, as staying in shape and fighting three times in three months in a Bellator tournament doesn’t strike me as something Jackson would be keen on doing. An immediate pairing with Anthony Johnson for the light-heavyweight title would make sense or a couple showcase fights before setting up that bout would play as well.
Anthony Pettis vs. Benson Henderson/Gilbert Melendez Winner
After blasting Donald Cerrone with a pair of brutal liver kicks, Pettis needs to enjoy life on the sidelines, avoid injuries, and wait for his crack at the UFC title.
Henderson and Melendez are scheduled to headline the next UFC on FOX event in April, which means Pettis will have to wait 6-8 months for his opportunity (at the minimum), but after having rolled the dice and landed on snake eyes once before, it’s in his best interest to just wait it out at this point.
Ricardo Lamas vs. Jose Aldo/Frankie Edgar Winner
Lamas pushed his featherweight and UFC winning streak to four with a dominant victory over Erik Koch, and the only thing that makes sense for him moving forward is a title shot. He’s now beaten Koch, Hatsu Hioki, and Cub Swanson in succession; that’s as strong a run as you can have at featherweight.
One potential hitch is if Edgar comes away from next weekend’s main event with the title. Aldo has successfully defended the title three times in the UFC (and five times overall including his WEC wins), so an immediate rematch would be in order, unless it’s a blowout.
Plus, it’s Frankie Edgar — he always fights guys twice, right?
TJ Grant vs. Jim Miller
Complete fighter vs. complete fighter. Beard vs. beard. Tell me this wouldn’t be awesome?
Grant looked outstanding putting away Matt Wiman in the first round on Saturday night, and Miller is coming off his bloody battle with Joe Lauzon, a bout he controlled from start to finish. They’re both a couple wins away from title contention at this point, and this is the kind of fight you need to make in order to have one guy take the next step forward.
Clay Guida vs. Nik Lentz
I have a feeling this is fight the UFC will make because (1) Guida wasn’t overly impressive in beating Hatsu Hioki in his featherweight debut, and (2) Lentz is forever stuck out of the mix because of his grinding style.
Ryan Bader vs. Ryan Jimmo/James Te Huna Winner
Bader looked great in earning Submission of the Night honours for his first-round win over Vladimir Matyushenko, but rushing him back into the fray at this point doesn’t make sense. He’s stumbled against two top of the food chain fighters in the past, so giving him time to continue building and improving makes sense.
Jimmo debuted with a seven-second knockout win over Anthony Perosh, and Te Huna has won three straight, and four of five overall, with his only loss coming against Gustafsson. These guys are on the fringe of contention, and pairing the winner with Bader feels like it fits.