Johnston on MMA: Playing UFC matchmaker

September 25, 2012, 10:22 PM

The days and weeks following a major UFC event are often the most exciting time for mixed martial arts fans because it affords them the opportunity to debate and speculate about what UFC matchmaker Joe Silva should do next.

At the end of 2012 when MMA supporters look back at the year that was, UFC 152 will be remembered as one of its best events. Of the 11 fights on the card, 10 of them were very entertaining. And even during the Matt Hamill vs. Roger Hollett scrap (the only forgettable matchup on the night) there were two fights in the stands that fans seemed to quite enjoy.

Overall, the card was littered with great performances from featured fighters like champions Jon Jones and Demetrious Johnson all the way down to the first preliminary bouts of the evening.

There are a lot of options for the winners.

What the UFC does next with Jones is up in the air because it’s unclear how long the light-heavyweight kingpin will be on the shelf recovering from elbow and bicep injuries he sustained when locked in that Vitor Belfort armbar. Will the UFC once again set up Jones vs. Dan Henderson? Maybe they give the winner of Mauricio Rua vs. Alexander Gustafsson the next shot. And don’t forget Lyoto Machida, who is still a strong contender after his destruction of Ryan Bader. Also, UFC president Dana White told media following the UFC 152 post-fight press conference that a matchup with Chael Sonnen is quite possible if enough fans want it.

Even though Johnson’s win over Benavidez came by the slightest of margins, there will not be an immediate rematch like we’ve seen all too often in the lightweight division. Johnson will first defend his title against with winner of Jussier da Silva vs. John Dodson, White announced on the same night Johnson made history becoming the UFC’s first 125-pound champ.

With that in mind, here are some other matchups featuring fighters that were victorious at UFC 152 that would make sense for the UFC to put together.

Michael Bisping vs. Anderson Silva

It’s unfair for the middleweight champion Silva to look past Stephan Bonner as the TUF 1 veteran looks to pull off arguably the biggest upset in MMA history at UFC 153 against Silva in a light-heavyweight non-title bout. But let’s say, hypothetically of course, that Silva wins that bout and comes out relatively unscathed. That would leave the Brazilian open to defend his 185-pound title sometime in the first half of 2013.

Silva and his management have not been too keen on the idea of fighting guys like Chris Weidman and other middleweights who don’t have an established name. Instead, they were pining for a super-fight with Georges St-Pierre.

However, Bisping is a big name and with his braggadocios behavior and inevitable trash talk, this is a marketable fight that Silva can get motivated for, and one that White called “interesting.”

More than anything, though, Bisping has done enough to merit a title shot. His win over Brian Stann at UFC 152 proved he can take a lot of punishment — the Brit was rocked in the first round and hit with big shots throughout the fight — and still implement a high-tempo, aggressive game plan and come out on top.

He is 23-4 and his four losses have been to Rashad Evans, Dan Henderson, Wanderlei Silva and Chael Sonnen, who are all either former champions or No. 1 contenders. Yes, he was brutally knocked out by Henderson, but if you take into consideration that many people scored the Evans, Silva and Sonnen fights in Bisping’s favour, his resume is that much more impressive, something White alluded to as well when discussing the potential matchup Saturday night.

It would be the most difficult challenge of Bisping’s career, but he has earned a shot at a UFC belt. Plus, it would be a fight millions of people worldwide would pay to see.

TJ Grant vs. Jim Miller

Cole Harbour, N.S.’s Grant was a good UFC welterweight, but after close, competitive decision losses to Johny Hendricks, Dong Hyun-Kim and Ricardo Almeida, he decided to try his luck at lightweight. Since making the drop to 155 pounds, Grant has looked outstanding. He submitted WEC standout Shane Roller, dominated veteran Carlo Prater and thrilled fans with his Fight of the Night win over Evan Dunham in Toronto last weekend.

Miller is coming off his first career stoppage loss as he was submitted by Nate Diaz in May. Despite that, Miller remains a top-10 lightweight and is the type of challenge that Grant needs.

Both go for it, have excellent grappling, strong striking and are durable, which has all the makings of an enticing matchup.

Cub Swanson vs. Chan Sung Jung

Speaking of enticing matchups, if you were to ask any MMA fan to name the top five most exciting featherweights, chances are Swanson and The Korean Zombie would be on that list.

Swanson is coming off his third straight knockout win in the UFC and has some of the most devastating KO power in the division. Jung has also won three straight in the UFC — three impressive finishes of Leonard Garcia, Mark Hominick and Dustin Poirier.

The two of them have a combined six UFC fight night bonuses during their current win streaks.

Mitch Gagnon vs. TJ Dillashaw

It’s always fun when two explosive, athletic submission artists face off in the cage. Sudbury, Ont.’s Gagnon improved to 9-2 with his ninth submission win as he dismantled Walel Watson in just 69 seconds at the Air Canada Centre.

Team Alpha Male’s Dillashaw recently submitted Vaughan Lee and is one of the hottest prospects in the bantamweight division. Dillashaw also has a win over Watson, but he was unable to get the finish.

Seth Baczynski vs. Siyar Bahadurzada

Both are on impressive win streaks, both look great at welterweight, and both have last names beginning with the better ‘B’ that are difficult to pronounce.

All kidding aside, these are two 170-pounders who are making waves in the division. Baczynski has won six in a row with only one going the distance and is coming off a one-punch KO of Simeon Thoresen.

Bahadurzada has won seven in a row, six by knockout or TKO, and is also coming off a one-punch KO victory — he planked Paulo Thiago in 42 seconds in April.

Sean Pierson vs. T.J. Waldburger

After dropping two straight in 2011, Toronto’s Pierson has won two in a row in 2012 including his unanimous decision over Lance Benoist at UFC 152.

Waldburger is coming off a loss but he has the submission game to give anyone in the division trouble. Both guys are middle-of-the-pack welterweights looking to rise up the ranks. A bout between them would make for an excellent preliminary matchup on any card.

Marcus Brimage vs. Nam Phan

Brimage just handed Jimy Hettes his first career loss and is unbeaten since coming off his stint on TUF 14. Phan recently topped Cole Miller in August and when have you seen Phan in a boring fight? Let these two TUF veterans scrap it out on the main card of a free, televised event.


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