UFC 292 just wrapped up. Call it corny or cliche, I feel like I have to say it: Welcome to the Suga Show.

Sean O’Malley is officially on the top of the bantamweight division. Putting Aljamain Sterling away early in the second round with punches, O’Malley became the new 135-pound king and shocked many. Many of us, myself included, picked Sterling to walk away with the win.

Sean O'Malley and Aljamain Sterling at UFC 292. IMAGO/USA TODAY/ Bob DeChiara
Sean O’Malley and Aljamain Sterling at UFC 292. IMAGO/USA TODAY/ Bob DeChiara

But UFC 292 is now in the past. It’s time to look toward the future — that’s what the Fights To Make column is all about. I’m taking care of Zane Simon’s usual post this week, linking the results of Saturday’s card to the UFC cards of the future.

With two title fights plus numerous other matchups from the TD Garden in the rear view mirror, let’s not waste any more time and just get right into the ideas!

UFC 292 Fights to Make

Sean O’Malley

Sean O'Malley is on top of the bantamweight division.
Sean O’Malley is on top of the bantamweight division after UFC 292. | Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports

Sean O’Malley made a statement at UFC 292 on Saturday night, putting away Aljamain Sterling in the highlight reel fashion that we have seen him do so many times now.

After his win, O’Malley expressed interest in avenging his one pro loss, which was against Marlon Vera. Earlier in the night Vera picked up a win against Pedro Munhoz and remains one of the top-ranked bantamweights. However, I don’t think a title shot is the best option for him next, even if he has a win over O’Malley.

I’d prefer to see O’Malley face Merab Dvalishvili next instead. Listen, I know the story of O’Malley avenging his singular defeat and being able to call himself, like, sort of undefeated again is good, but Dvalishvili simply deserves it more.

Dvalishvili hasn’t lost since 2018. As the challenges have become more serious in recent years, his performances have remained solid. He finished Marlon Moraes in 2021. The following year, he got a win over Jose Aldo. And he went a whole five rounds against Petr Yan in March, beating him via unanimous decision in the end.

Plus, Dvalishvili is actually a pretty good story to sell too. Sterling is his teammate. They have such a close bond that Sterling was going to duck out of the division after Saturday so that Dvalishvili would get a shot (which, by the way, is so heartwarming?). And now that Sterling lost the belt, it’s a chance for Dvalishvili to get revenge. That’s a pretty solid story too. And there are other great bouts for Vera to get before he gets his chance in the spotlight (we’ll get to that later in the story!) Let’s do Sean O’Malley vs. Merab Dvalishvili next.

Aljamain Sterling

Aljamain Sterling was unsure what division he would fight in after Saturday.
Aljamain Sterling was unsure what division he would fight in after UFC 292. | Louis Grasse/ZUMA Wire

Quite honestly, Aljamain Sterling losing at UFC 292 makes picking his next opponent a little harder. He was vocal heading into this weekend that he hoped to defend his belt at 135 pounds then move up to featherweight. That would have made for a pretty simple booking. The guy who defended his belt four times at bantamweight, is he getting a title shot immediately? Uh, yeah! But after his loss on Saturday, Sterling said he had second thoughts about a move to 145.

So we’re going to write this under the assumption that bantamweight is where he will stay. Since he has faced many people in the division, most of the top ranked names in the division are sort of off limits already. And he won’t face top-ranked Merab Dvalishvili, who is a teammate and friend of his. The highest-ranked challenger of Sterling is Marlon Vera, who is sixth. That’s not an awful matchup to make, but we have a plan for Vera later in this article.

While I am less inclined to book rematches than others, I’m thinking a rematch between Sterling and Cory Sandhagen could be the next matchup. Sterling’s win over Sandhagen — now more than three years old — saw him mount the back of Sandhagen in the first mount and take him to the ground for a rear naked choke attempt. A minute later, Sandhagen tapped due to a choke from Sterling.

It was a fast and dominant performance for Sterling. But was it how I expect that fight to go 10 times out of 10? No way. I think a second meeting between them is not only a great rankings pairing (a former champion against someone who, is as of writing this, fourth), but I think it could produce a solid fight. Aljamain Sterling’s first fight back being against Cory Sandhagen isn’t an awful idea.

Zhang Weili

It was a dominant showing from Zhang Weili on Saturday.
It was a dominant showing from Zhang Weili on Saturday at UFC 292. | Louis Grasse/ZUMA Wire

Zhang Weili made a ranked contender look like a newcomer. In an incredibly one-sided performance, Zhang took every round on two of the three judge’s scorecards against Amanda Lemos to defend her UFC Strawweight Championship for the first time since regaining it in 2022.

Zhang is back. Now that she has re-established her dominance in the 115-pound division… What now? Well, here are some ideas:

There are two really solid contenders at strawweight that you could argue can get the title shot next. First is Yan Xiaonan, who is ranked third in the division. She has an impressive eight wins through 10 UFC appearances. Those two losses were fights from 2021 and 2022 respectively, but she has bounced back. In late 2022, she overcame Mackenzie Dern in a five-round majority decision. And more recently, she stopped Jessica Andrade within a round with strikes.

The other contender is the undefeated Tatiana Suarez. For a long time, Suarez was touted as the “next big thing.” But the time for that “next” talk is over, because she has arrived and is knocking on the door of a title shot. Despite just having 10 wins as a pro, she is ranked fourth at strawweight at the moment. Her last win, a victory against Andrade, was a second-round guillotine choke.

They’re both solid contenders, but we must pick one here! I’m going to favor Yan for a couple of reasons. For one, she has a pair of really big wins from quite recently. Putting Andrade away in the first round is no joke and Dern is also a good win. My other reason is that she has gone the five-round distance as a pro and is able to compete in these scenarios.

To no fault of Suarez, she has yet to get booked in a five-round contest. While she’s one of the top talents in the division and certainly doesn’t have a whole lot more to prove before getting a championship opportunity, it would be nice to see her in a main event booking before she gets the title shot. Suarez is a good challenge, but there can only be one fighter who gets a title shot next. I’m going to say Zhang Weili vs. Yan Xiaonan is next.

Amanda Lemos

Where does Amanda Lemos go after he one-sided loss?
Where does Amanda Lemos go after he one-sided loss at UFC 292? | Ed Mulholland/USA Today Network

It was a hard night for Amanda Lemos on Saturday. While her toughness was on display during the 25 minutes of action against Zhang Weili, the compliments basically end there. It’s back to the drawing board for her.

It would feel cruel to give Lemos another tough assignment after the loss she took this weekend. I’d rather her go into a more even matchup against a fighter who is coming off a loss. My instinct was to give her Tatiana Suarez, who is ranked similarly and could use a main event fight (and if we’re following the fantasy booking of the previous section, Suarez would have some time to kill while Zhang takes on Yan Xiaonan!).

But that’s a really tough outing for Lemos and upon further inspection feels unfair. Let’s go in a different direction.

Here’s what makes it tougher: a lot of the people ranked around Lemos are coming off a win. I thought maybe she could get Virna Jandiroba or Mackenzie Dern, but nope. The highest-ranked name below her that she hasn’t faced yet is 10th-place Tecia Torres.

But is that fair? Torres’ last win was in 2021, and her loss — a split decision defeat to Dern — came more than a year ago now. While I hesitate a little about this matchup, given the fact that it potentially would be two back-to-back tough ones for Torres, that’s what I’m going to go with.

I find this situation a little hard to navigate, but this gives me some peace: realistically, the landscape will have changed by the time Lemos is ready to fight again. She just took a brutal five-round loss and will likely be on the shelf until 2024, at least. I’m penciling in Amanda Lemos vs. Tecia Torres, but the likelihood of that being the actual Fight To Make once Lemos is ready might not be too high.

Ian Machado Garry

Ian Machado Garry picked up a win. What's next for 'The Future?'
Ian Machado Garry picked up a win at UFC 292. What’s next for ‘The Future?’ | Bob de Chiara/USA Today Network

Dominance was the word to describe Ian Machado Garry’s win over veteran Neil Magny. It was the first big win for the undefeated Machado Garry as he continues to climb up the welterweight rankings. Through three rounds he showcased his stellar striking, chopping Magny down with leg kicks and nearly putting him away in the closing minutes of the fight.

Garry’s win should push him up a few spots at welterweight, as Magny is currently ranked 11th. Garry had a very smart call-out afterwards, targeting veteran Stephen Thompson, who is ranked seventh. That’s a reasonable challenge and one that he very well could get. It would continue to fast-track him up the rankings, but doesn’t push him up too far or keep him too low in the standings.

Call it cop out, but I completely agree with Garry here. I want to see the striking skills of Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson clash against Ian Machado Garry.

To read the rest of UFC 292’s Fights to Make head on over to Substack. We discuss Marlon Vera, Gregory Rodrigues, Andre Petroski, and Natalia Silva. Plus, signing up gives you access to the rest of the stellar premium writing that is produced by the Bloody Elbow team.

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About the author
Jack Wannan
Jack Wannan

Jack Wannan is a reporter for Bloody Elbow. He joined the site in 2023 after previously writing for MMA-Prospects.com and Knockdown News. He is currently in the process of earning a bachelor's degree in journalism at Toronto Metropolitan University.

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