Written by Dillon Louw (@TheMMA_Arsenal)— May 15th, 2020.
On Saturday night, Justin Gaethje fulfilled the dream he has been working towards since he was 4-years-old by dominating Tony Ferguson in their interim lightweight title fight.
In the co-main event of the evening, a title fight to determine the greatest to ever compete at bantamweight, Henry Cejudo disposed of Dominick Cruz by 2nd-round TKO. During his post-fight octagon interview with Joe Rogan, Cejudo proclaimed himself the greatest combat sport athlete of all-time and announced his imminent retirement from MMA.
UFC 249 proved to be a highly entertaining card, with some great upsets and memorable performances. This leads us to the question — what is next for the fighters involved? Let’s take a look at some possible matchups for the winners and losers who competed this past Saturday.
Yorgan de Castro
de Castro, after an emotional high following a first-round knockout victory in his UFC debut, took a unanimous decision loss to Greg Hardy, and now sits with a 1–1 record in the UFC. A fight that could make sense for him is a bout with fellow UFC newcomer Raphael Pessoa, also 1–1 in the promotion. As both fighters have high finish rates during their careers, this should prove to be an interesting matchup. With the loser of this bout sliding to a 1–2 record in the UFC, both fighters will be competing for possible contract extensions.
Stephens, after suffering his 4th-straight defeat at the hands of Calvin Kattar, has dropped down to #8 in the featherweight rankings. A matchup against #10 ranked Shane Burgos should be next for Stephens as he attempts to climb back up the featherweight ladder. Burgos, currently 6–1 in the UFC, would also see this as an opportunity to climb up the rankings. A win over a respected UFC veteran like Stephens could draw attention from the higher-ranked opponents in the division.
After a dream start to his UFC career with 4 wins in 10 months, the Suriname native has fallen victim to the devastating power of Francis Ngannou. This leaves him as the #6 ranked heavyweight in the UFC. In a bid to get back on track for UFC gold, he should take on #7 ranked fellow kickboxing specialist Alexander Volkov. If ‘Bigi Boy’ can overcome the challenges Volkov poses, he could very well draw a top 5 ranked opponent in his next fight.
Cruz, one of the greatest bantamweights to ever compete in MMA, has suffered only his 3rd career defeat at the hands of Henry Cejudo. A fight with fellow WEC and UFC legend José Aldo should prove to be an exciting option. Both of these guys will be attempting to fight their way back into bantamweight title contention. A win over Aldo could be followed by a fight with fellow top contenders like Cory Sandhagen or Marlon Moraes.
‘El Cucuy’, having fallen short in his attempt to claim his 2nd interim UFC lightweight title, and having his 12-fight win streak come to an abrupt stop, will be looking to get back on track after his recovery. A fight against Charles Oliveira seems like a good opportunity. This is an intriguing stylistic matchup as it will be two crafty strikers and excellent submission grapplers sharing the octagon. Another compelling matchup for Ferguson, albeit a bit more unrealistic, is welterweight bout with Nate Diaz. This would be an instant classic, and something the fans will most definitely tune in for.
Hardy, after his win over Yorgan de Castro, improves his MMA record to 6–2–1(NC). A good matchup for Hardy to continue his upward ascent is a bout with Cyril Gane. Gane is 3–0 in the UFC and right at the brink of the heavyweight top 15. A win for either fighter could mean a spot in the rankings. As a very athletic heavyweight, Gane should prove to be a tough matchup for the former NFL star.
Following a loss to Zabit Magomedsharipov, Kattar has bounced back in impressive fashion with a devastating knockout of UFC veteran Jeremy Stephens. Now the #7 ranked featherweight, The Massachusetts native should look for a fight with someone in the upper echelon of the division. Yair Rodriguez is a name that comes to mind. He is 9–1–1(NC) in the UFC and the #5 ranked featherweight, also coming off a win against Stephens. This matchup would elevate either fighter into the 145 lb. title picture, and will definitely bring out the best in the two athletes if it occurs over 5 rounds.
After disposing of his last 4 opponents in a combined time of 2 minutes and 45 seconds, Ngannou has cemented his position as the number-one contender in the heavyweight division. Ngannou should get his shot at the heavyweight title after Daniel Cormier and Stipe Miocic complete their trilogy bout. The Camaroonian’s only UFC defeats have come by decision to current heavyweight champion Miocic, and in a very lacklustre bout against Derrick Lewis. Since then, “The Predator” has been on a rampage and in the process has dismantled all other contenders.
Cejudo’s post-fight retirement has left the bantamweight title vacant. A fight will be made to determine the new champion, which I believe should be between Petr Yan and Aljamain Sterling. These are two true contenders, and they have both paid their dues in earning a shot at UFC gold. It should prove to be a step in the right direction for the 135lb. division, which has for the most part been on hold with Cejduo at the throne.
Justin Gaethje quite comfortably disposed of Tony Ferguson and laid claim on the interim UFC lightweight championship. Following this win, it could only mean one thing: A unification bout with undefeated title-holder Khabib Nurmagomedov. With a lot of fans believing that Gaethje will be Khabib’s most difficult matchup to date, this surely will prove to be a lightweight title bout for the ages.
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