Saturday night in Las Vegas, Jose Aldo cemented his legacy as one of the best fighters in MMA history, earning his 15th consecutive victory and sixth straight title defence overall in a dominant performance against Frankie Edgar.
Dispatching Edgar puts Aldo in an interesting position. As much as the featherweight division is starting to fill out and contenders like Ricardo Lamas and “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung have made strong cases for being deserving of championship opportunities, the 145-pound wrecking machine might be ready to test the waters of the UFC lightweight division.
Here are my thoughts on whom Aldo will end up sharing the cage with next, as well as match-ups for the rest of Saturday’s main card competitors.
Jose Aldo vs. Anthony Pettis
This one came out of left field Saturday night at the post-fight press conference, but go ahead and try to tell me you’re not excited about this potential match-up.
Dana White disclosed that Pettis, the standout lightweight who is likely in line for a shot at the winner of the Benson Henderson/Gilbert Melendez fight in April, texted him after the bout, saying he wanted to drop down to featherweight to fight Aldo.
As much as I think Ricardo Lamas has worked his way to the top of the list of contenders, if Pettis wants to come down to face the champ, he’s done enough at lightweight to bump “The Bully” from the head of the line. An Aldo-Pettis pairing would be electric, and with Aldo out of high-profile options right now, I can definitely see the UFC pushing hard to make this happen.
Bonus forecast note: don’t be surprised if we see Aldo’s next fight take place in Brazil. The UFC doesn’t have anything booked for Brazil yet this year, but Dana has said Anderson Silva’s next fight won’t be there, so having Aldo headline in his home country would make sense.
Frankie Edgar vs. Urijah Faber
Catch you off guard?
Here’s the thing: I don’t think there are any fights at featherweight that have the right risk/reward factor for Edgar to stick around the division. There are interesting match-ups, but nothing high profile, which makes dropping down another division make sense.
And yes, Edgar could make 135 pounds.
Provided Faber gets through Ivan Menjivar later this month, this would be a tremendous title eliminator, and a fight that could easily serve as the co-main event of a FOX or pay-per-view card. Whoever holds the interim bantamweight belt will be first to welcome Dominick Cruz back to the cage, but the winner of this one could claim the next spot in line.
If that’s Faber, we get the trilogy fight that was supposed to happen following TUF 15. If it’s Edgar, we get another battle between two pound-for-pound fixtures, and another high profile test for “The Dominator.”
Antonio Rogerio Nogueira vs. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua
With the upper tier of the light heavyweight division already booked up, circling back to potentially avenge his June 2005 Pride loss to Rua seems like the logical next step for Nogueira at this point.
His win over Rashad Evans wasn’t anything spectacular; in fact, it was kind of drab if we’re being honest, but a win is a win, and Nogueira deserves a solid match-up next. Rua dropped a decision to up-and-coming Swedish standout Alexander Gustafsson in December, so the timing isn’t too far off the mark for that pairing to work.
Antonio Silva vs. Cain Velasquez
Here’s where the old “I won’t fight my teammate” situation causes problems.
With Silva upsetting Alistair Overeem in spectacular fashion, the logical fight make at heavyweight is a bout between Daniel Cormier and Cain Velasquez. Unfortunately, they’re teammates and close friends, and have zero interest in facing each other.
As such, we’ll likely see a rematch between Velasquez and Silva. Their first fight went down last May at UFC 146, and Cain smashed Silva, needing less than four minutes to leave him battered and bloody in the center of the cage.
I’m not sure things go differently the second time around, but with the limited options at the top of the division, we’ll likely find out if Silva can get his revenge later this year.
Demian Maia vs. Rory MacDonald/Carlos Condit winner
Having extended his welterweight winning streak to three with an impressive victory on Saturday night where he out-Fitched Jon Fitch, Maia is very much in the mix at the top of the 170-pound weight class. With Johny Hendricks holding the lead in the chase to be the next title challenger, pairing Maia up with the winner of the UFC 158 co-main event feels like the right fight to make.
MacDonald has repeatedly said he’s not interested in fighting his Tristar teammate Georges St-Pierre, who currently holds the belt, and Condit just lost to the reigning champion back in November, so while they’re each still in the thick of the hunt at the top of the division, they’re also on hold for the time being. And no, I’m not forgetting about Nick Diaz; if he wins, GSP gets an automatic rematch, no questions asked.
The winner would be a legitimate title contender, and depending on how things play out between GSP, Nick Diaz, and Hendricks over the next couple months, we could see the victor from this hypothetical pairing fighting for the title in early 2014.
Joseph Benavidez vs. Demetrious Johnson
Think back to your days of playing Nintendo. Remember when you’d get to the boss at the end of a level — or a game — you’d lose, press continue, and beat him the second time around, after you’ve learned their moves?
That’s what Benavidez will look to do in his second go-round with “Mighty Mouse.”
Johnson took home a split decision victory and the UFC flyweight title when they clashed at UFC 152 in Toronto last September, and has subsequently defended the belt against John Dodson. After admittedly coming out stiff in their first meeting, Benavidez will look to build off the positives from their initial encounter, and his strong effort against McCall to wrest the belt away from Johnson, and finally replace the UFC title belt Polaroid he has sitting on his mantle with the real thing.