Every so often, a fight card takes place that changes the course of a weight class for the foreseeable future, and “UFC 165: Jones vs. Gustafsson” on Saturday night was one of them.
After blowing through a murderer’s row of some of the greatest light heavyweight fighters ever, it seemed that no one at 205 pounds would be able to present a challenge to champion Jon Jones (19-1 MMA, 13-1 UFC).
Then along came Alexander Gustafsson (15-2 MMA, 7-2 UFC), who pushed “Bones” to the very brink and gave him his most competitive fight to date.
Prior to UFC 165, fans were clamoring to see Jones move up to the heavyweight division, but “The Mauler” humanized the champion and suddenly brought on the feeling there is still plenty more for Jones to accomplish in his current weight class.
While a potential Jones vs. Gustafsson rematch is the talk of the town, there were some other big winners at UFC 165, too, and a number of compelling matchups could be on the horizon for the main-card fighters.
After every event, fans wonder whom the winners will be matched up with next. And with another night of UFC action in the rearview mirror, it’s time to look forward, put on a pair of Joe Silva’s (and Sean Shelby’s) shoes, and play UFC matchmaker.
Should Fight: Rafael dos Anjos
Why They Should Fight: Khabib Nurmagomedov (21-0 MMA, 5-0 UFC) and Rafael dos Anjos (20-6 MMA, 9-4 UFC) recently earned decisive victories over highly regarded top-10 opponents and are now firmly “in the mix” of title contenders at 155 pounds.
The next step toward the championship is clearly another matchup against a fighter in the thick of the lightweight rankings, and both men are right there.
Nurmagomedov in the midst of one of the sport’s great winning streaks, and with a 21-0 record in his professional career, a win over dos Anjos following his domination of Pat Healy would make “The Eagle” soar closer to a title fight.
The same can be said for dos Anjos, who after taking out Donald Cerrone has emerged as a dark horse contender in the lightweight division.
While a number of fighters in the lightweight division are a win or two away from having an argument for a title shot, there’s no doubt the winner between Nurmagomedov and dos Anjos would be ready to challenge for Anthony Pettis‘ belt.
Should Fight: Luke Rockhold
Why They Should Fight: Francis Carmont’s (22-7 MMA, 6-0 UFC) six-fight UFC winning streak is something that cannot be ignored, but when running down the nature of the victories in that streak, it sure makes “Limitless” seem more like “Limited.”
Unfortunately for the French-Canadian transplant, a fighter’s most important performance is his last, and Carmont’s UFC 165 victory over Constantinos Philippou was, to put it lightly, a stinker.
The victory marked the first time in Carmont’s career where he defeated a top-10 opponent, and no one can take that from him. But now the matchups are only going to get more difficult.
In his quest to climb the UFC middleweight rankings, Carmont should next fight Luke Rockhold (10-2 MMA, 0-1 UFC), who recently pulled out of a scheduled UFC 166 bout with Tim Boetsch, but could potentially return by the time Carmont is ready to fight again.
A win over Carmont for would do a lot and for Rockhold, who is still searching for his first octagon victory, and on the flip side, adding the name of a former Strikeforce champion to his resume would only benefit Carmont going forward.
Should Fight: Todd Duffee
Why They Should Fight: Brendan Schaub’s (10-3 MMA, 6-3 UFC) first-round submission of Matt Mitrione was certainly was of the most impressive and dynamic wins of his career, but the ex-football player still has a long way to go before being taken seriously as a contender in the heavyweight division.
With back-to-back wins under his belt, Schaub can look ahead to the next challenge, which should come in the form of another beastly heavyweight in Todd Duffee (8-2 MMA, 2-1 UFC).
Schaub vs. Duffee would be a great fight for the fans; however, Schaub may be back in the octagon before that matchup can be put together as UFC President Dana White revealed at the UFC 165 post-fight news conference that “The Hybrid” could fill in as an injury replacement on an upcoming card.
If that’s the case, Schaub’s next opponent will be revealed sooner rather than later, but if whatever fight White hinted at fell through, a showdown with Duffee is highly intriguing.
Should Fight: Dominick Cruz
Why They Should Fight: Renan Barao’s (31-1 MMA, 6-0 UFC) undefeated streak was pushed to 32-straight fights at UFC 165, a run so impressive it’s almost hard to fathom and only raises the question: Who can beat the Brazilian?
At this point, after a second-round TKO of Eddie Wineland, it’s hard to look at the 135-pound weight class and pick anyone who would be favored over the interim champion.
Barao’s next fight is really dependent on one major factor: When will bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz (19-1 MMA, 2-0 UFC) be ready to return to the octagon?
The answer to that question is still up in the air as Cruz has yet to confirm a return date other than sometime in early 2014. If “The Dominator” is indeed ready to go by then, he’ll be welcomed back by Barao in a championship unification bout.
From Cruz’s standpoint, it’s a lot to ask him to come back from a layoff of more than two years and fight Barao immediately. A warm-up bout would be ideal, but that’s simply not how the UFC operates, and Cruz will immediately be thrown into the fire.
Should Cruz’s recovery go through another hiccup, there’s a good chance he will be stripped of the belt and Barao’s next opponent will come in the form of a rematch with Urijah Faber or Michael McDonald, who meet in December.
The most likely option for Barao is he will wait for Cruz to return from injury, which is a smart move if the fight can happen within four to six months.
Should Fight: Alexander Gustafsson
Why They Should Fight: Jon Jones’ next opponent had been set for a few weeks prior to UFC 165 as Glover Teixeira was named the No. 1 contender in the light heavyweight division following a dramatic knockout of Ryan Bader in Brazil.
However, that was before Jones and Alexander Gustafsson put on one of the greatest five-round championship fights in history. Now the MMA community wants nothing more than to see a rematch of the “Fight of the Year” candidate, and the UFC needs to strike while the iron is hot.
Teixeira has said he would not be upset if UFC officials decided to book a rematch with Jones and Gustafsson, and at this point unless one of them is sidelined with injury for an extended period of time, it makes all the sense in the world to give the fans Part 2 of the epic UFC 165 main event.
For complete coverage of UFC 165, stay tuned to the UFC Events section of the site.
(Pictured: Brendan Schaub)