While UFC 185 wasn’t filled with big names to make this a truly blockbuster pay-per-view, it was a really strong card on paper and it lived up at least to my expectations. All of the prelims ended in finishes, many of them in violent fashion. We also saw some great performances by prospects like Henry Cejudo and Joseph Duffy, a terrific showing from Joanna Jedrzejczyk to become the new UFC women’s strawweight champion, and likewise for new UFC lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos in his dismantling of Anthony Pettis.
Without further ado, it’s time to look at the futures of the main card fighters from Saturday night’s event in a spanking new edition of “Fights to Make”. For pay-per-views and FOX shows I include all main carders, but for smaller events it’s just the winners.
Rafael dos Anjos. The winner of Donald Cerrone/Khabib Nurmagomedov is already next in line, so my work here is done. Just a simply sublime, systematic destruction of the champion by the Brazilian. Remember when this guy was 0-2 to start out his UFC career? What incredible improvement from a once fairly unremarkable fighter to the best LW in the world.
Anthony Pettis. For the 2nd time in as many fights, Pettis didn’t get the desirable space to work his striking. However, this version of dos Anjos is light years ahead of Gilbert Melendez. It’s hard to see Pettis getting that belt back again just knowing how badly dos Anjos beat him up and how assuredly the same outcome would happen vs. Nurmagomedov. Would a fight with Edson Barboza be out of the question? I’d have suggested Josh Thomson but him and Pettis seemingly are never healthy at the same time.
Joanna Jedrzejczyk. The way she finished Esparza was just incredibly lethal. Superb showing by the Polish strawweight, and she becomes Europe’s first UFC champion since the days of Andrei Arlovski. If Joanne Calderwood beats Maryna Moroz on the main card of UFC Krakow on April 11th, I believe that will be Jedrzejczyk’s first title defense, and it might headline the summer debut card in Scotland.
Carla Esparza. What a blowout loss. She looked absolutely out of Joanna’s league when she couldn’t rely on her takedowns and Joanna’s striking was just lethal. There’s zero argument for another title shot for her for a long time for as long as Jedrzejczyk is champion. For now, Esparza vs. the loser of Bec Rawlings/Seo Hee Ham.
Johny Hendricks. There are two roads for “Bigg Rigg” after beating Matt Brown. He can either wait on the sidelines and wait for the winner of Robbie Lawler/Rory MacDonald at UFC 189 in July, or he can take another fight against someone like Tyron Woodley to really clinch his status as #1 contender. I think the UFC will side with option 1 and just hand Hendricks his title shot and have him fight the winner in the fall, potentially on the Houston card in October.
Matt Brown. It was fun while it lasted, but the Matt Brown title contention run is over. He’s still as tough as they come and can easily headline Fight Night cards on FS1 on the regular. Taking a stab at it, Brown won’t get another top 10 opponent, but instead Tim Means.
Alistair Overeem. Yes he was knocked down by Nelson’s left hand (!), but up until then he was having his way with him. He’s finally got a UFC winning streak and he keeps himself afloat as a potential title contender. You could finally see him fight Junior dos Santos, but with the former champ shelved indefinitely due to knee surgery, I can see Overeem taking on the winner of Mark Hunt/Stipe Miocic instead.
Roy Nelson. If you knock an opponent down and you get a chance for a miracle win, would you decide to randomly go for a takedown? Thought so. I do not understand Roy Nelson’s fight strategy, then again he’s historically lost any fight that doesn’t end in a 1st round KO. I’m somewhat stuck as to where he goes next because he’s faced just about everyone in the top 10, so I’ll shoot for him being Josh Barnett’s return fight.
Henry Cejudo. Great performance — not that Henry believed he had one in his post-fight self-assessment — and he’s clearly at top 10 fighter. However, slow your roll on putting him straight into a title fight. John Dodson and Zach Makovsky are fighting in May and the winner of that one likely gets the next crack at the belt. Also, he needs to make the 125 lbs limit again to ease any worries about him having weight-cutting problems again. I’d like to see him against Ali Bagautinov (whose PED suspension ends in June), and from there he may very well clinch a title shot.
Chris Cariaso. This loss cements Cariaso as a firm gatekeeper in the flyweight division. His title shot was under special circumstances of “We don’t have anyone viable to fight Mighty Mouse”. I think “Kamikaze” faces Chris Beal next.
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